13 MARCH 1944
CRASH OF VULTEE VENGEANCE
AT CLIFFY POINT, CAPE YORK, QLD
RAAF Mk. 2a Vultee Vengeance, A27-224 (AN578), piloted by William Henry Larkin (411027) crashed at Cliffy Point (10.8215ļ S, 142.557ļ E) Cape York, in far north Queensland on 13 March 1944. The other crew member was F/Sgt William Leslie Lethlean (415803). It is believed that the aircraft was later salvaged.
Paul Larkin, W.H. Larkin's son told me that his father's log book entry for 13 March 1944 reads as follows:-
"Nadzab N.G - Higgins Field Australia Fuel shortage -engine failure - forced landing Cliffy Point Cape York. Unhurt - aircraft slightly damaged but probably unsalvageable. Picked up by Lt Gardiner & Lt Anning in MV"Reliance" after 5 hrs on beach."
William Henry Larkin
Excerpt from a letter written by William Larkin to his wife.
Wednesday 15th. Mar.
I havenít written to you for three days now, for various reasons, chief of which was the fact that I was forced to spend a day in the drink Ė or actually I landed in the sea a few yards from the shore & spent the day on the beach. Ö on Sunday afternoon I was told that we would all be taking off early on Monday morning for Australia. Ö
Well, everything went O.K. & we got off pretty well on time on Monday morning, and everything in the garden was lovely until good old Aussie came in sight. Then the fun started! I was at about five thousand feet, with plenty of herbs on, & without any warning the engine stopped. I worked overtime & managed to get it going again in a sort of a way, but not for long. The petrol tanks were absolutely bone dry. I only had a vague idea where I was, and we had no alternative but to bail out or go down on the beach. I didnít think twice and chose the beach.
I told Bill Lethlean Ė the observer- what was happening & he called up the leader on the radio, telling him we were going down, but apparently he didnít hear us. He just had time to toss his guns overboard before we hit. I had picked out a good stretch of sand with shallow water alongside. I managed to stop the engine & turn the ignition off & just had time to haul back on the stick before we touched down. Otherwise we would have had a nasty crack up. We hit a slight mound of sand about ten yards from the water, tail first, doing about 105 mph, bounced about six inches into the water & dug the nose in about twenty yards out & about fifty yards from the point we touched down. Our aircraft usually have a landing run of about 800 yards!. There was a terrific cloud of spray, & with the final jolt my head snapped forward, & I cracked my skull a terrific whack on the crash pad. I saw stars and stripes for a few seconds, & blood poured down my face & for a few seconds I thought I was killed. Bill was O.K. & we both hopped out in double quick time & waded ashore. Bill got out his first aid kit, had a look at the wound & put a bandage on it. It turned out to be only a superficial cut & I sustained no other personal damage, so Iíll probably be back to normal in about ten years.
Luckily one of the other kites saw us going down & turned back to investigate. He flew over low a couple of times & finally dropped his water bottle to us. He then flew on to the drome & reported our position.
Meanwhile we had a look round and decided we might as well salvage what we could. Of course I landed with my wheels and flaps up & the kite suffered very little damage. The only trouble was that all our clothes & personal gear were in the bomb bay, & there was seven tons of aircraft on top of them, & two feet of water underneath. We did save a few things which we had stowed in the tail of the kite, including a couple of towels, shaving gear, soap, eating utensils & of course the flying gear we were wearing, including our water bottles, emergency rations & our first aid kit. We also had a couple of packages of emergency rations stowed in the back. Besides that we had our parachutes, dinghy & a couple of cushions.
We struggled ashore with all this stuff, & carried it above high water mark into a small gully in the sand with a few bushes for shade. The first thing we wanted was something to eat, so we cracked one of the large packets of emergency rations. It contained several tins of baked beans & pilchards, a pound of raisins, two packets of Arnottís Currant Luncheon biscuits, some milk tablets, acid drops. P.K.ís, matches, mosquito net & one or two other odds & ends, as well as a tin opener knife fork & spoon. Well, we dived into a tin of pilchards each, with some biscuits, & washed it down with water from our bottles. After that we inflated the dinghy, & found a fishing line & bait inside.
We then had a bit of a snooze for about an hour, after which we decided to have a look around & see what we could see & perhaps do a spot of fishing. There was a small headland about 3/4 miles along the beach & we walked along to that. The water was deeper here & we noticed some fish swimming around. So we cast out the old line, but after several attempts we managed to catch a few rocks. We had just broken the hook when we heard a plane coming. We scrambled up the beach & began waving our hats, but the silly cow kept circling our kite & didnít see us until we were almost back to the kite. Eventually he dropped a message telling us to stay near the machine & an Army boat would pick us up about four oíclock. It was then 2 PM & we had been down about two hours. So we just had to sit down and wait.
It was pretty warm in the sun, so we stripped off & dived into the water to cool off. We took the dinghy with us & had a paddle round in it. By this time the tide had run right out and the kite was high & dry. So we had a look to see if we could rescue any of our gear. But we werenít in the event.
So we just had to wait for the boat to arrive to pick us up. We splashed around in the water most of the time to keep cool, and the boat eventually arrived about 4.30 PM. It was a fair sized lugger & they anchored about ľ mile offshore & sent a dinghy in for us & they took us back to the boat. Two army lieutenants who came in the dinghy had a look over the kite while the native island boy rowed us out, & then returned to pick them up.
As soon as we stepped on board we were given hot tea & fresh beef sandwiches, and a medical orderly cleaned up my wound while I ate & drank. After that we had a beaut slice of watermelon each & then had to tell our yarn over about five times.
We were about thirty miles from our destination & the boat wasnít particularly fast. About 6.30 PM we had some tea of beaut curry and rice & mashed potatoes, bread & fresh butter, more tea & another slice of watermelon. After that we went up on deck & yarned about everything under the sun, from aeroplanes & boats to beer & women.
About 8 PM we passed Somerset, which is on the tip of Cape York & we reached the landing place at 10.30. We took about ten minutes to get our gear off, & then we were taken into the Officers Mess. Well, the first thing that greeted our eyes was about half a dozen bottles of Reschís Waverly Lager, & four glasses. Well, I ask you, after being away from beer for two months, what else could we do but hoe into it. And we had only had about two glasses when a beaut plate of fresh bream fried in batter & more tea was brought into us. I reckon I'd ditch a kite any day of the week if we got treated like that. Anyway, after finishing off the rest of the beer, & exchanging names and addresses, we took our leave with an open invitation to return any night we felt like for a convivial gathering. They provided us with a tender & driver to take us out to the airstrip, over about the worst road Iíve ever been on, New Guinea included.
We arrived out here about 1.30 on Tuesday morning & had to knock up the Orderly Officer to find us a place to sleep. He was expecting us though, and he had already prepared a hut for us, & had provided beds, blankets & mosquito nets. We had no light so he left us his torch. We went to bed about 2.30 AM and slept like a log till about nine oclock.
We got up & had just stepped out of the door when an officer came up and asked us had we had any breakfast. We said we hadnít, so he asked us would we like some. We naturally said yes & he told us to take our time & have a shower & shave & get cleaned up generally, & he would have breakfast ready about a quarter to ten. So we had our shower & shave etc., & bowled over to a beaut feed of fresh scrambled eggs, bread and butter & tea.
After that, we looked up the rest of the crowd, including the Acting C.O., who hadnít seen us since we left New Guinea the previous day. The C.O. was very pleased to see that we had got back O.K., & was tickled pink at the job we had done & the experiences we had. We were absolutely destitute of clothing, except for what we wore & the few odds & ends we had saved. So he took us to the Equipment Store, & arranged for us to get anything we wanted. We each had two pairs of long pants, two pairs of socks, two drab shirts, a hat fur felt, a pair of boots, a couple of towels, a housewife to do some sewing, a toothbrush a pair of gaiters, a kitbag & one or two minor items. Bill got some Sgts. Stripes. & I got some P.O.ís braid. We came back to our hut & went to town on the sewing.
After lunch, which was of fresh meat & vegetables & custard pie, I went to the hospital & had my wound redressed. The orderly had a look at it, & said it was going well, but advised me to keep it as dry as possible, otherwise it would take a long time to heal in this climate. After that we came back & had a sleep.
Before tea, we had a bottle of beer & then had a feed which was a equally as good as the lunch. After tea we had a yarn with the boys & had to recount our experiences over & over again. We came back to the hut about dark, & were just lighting a candle when the adjutant of the station walked in & gave us an incandescent kerosene lamp. He said he wasnít using it & we may as well have it as long as we needed it. It is only a small lamp but it is about as powerful as a hundred watt electric light. Iím writing this letter by its light now. We had a supper of pork & beans & went to bed about 10.30.
We slept until 9 AM & decided weíd miss breakfast. I was very sorry afterwards as we found out it was fried eggs and bacon. Anyway we had a shave & shower, & had to report to the M.O. for our aterbrin & quinine about 10 oíclock. After that we slept & read, had lunch, more sleeping & reading, had some more beer, tea & are now back writing.
Tomorrow morning the whole crowd of us are going fishing near the place we were landed on Monday night. We have arranged for rations, tea etc., & we should be able to borrow a boat. We should have a fish supper tomorrow night.
Ö Although it wasnít very pleasant at the time, it could have been infinitely worse. If Iíd had as much as five minutes petrol left, Iíd have almost certainly been killed. I would have just about made the strip, but wouldnít have had enough to land, & would have crashed in trees 80 to a hundred feet high. I can tell you, Ö, that I thanked God most fervently, & I donít doubt that your prayers helped me immensely. Bill was very pleased, & couldnít thank me enough for, as he said, saving his life. I was just as interested in saving my own as his.
Ö Iím not attempting to minimise the danger I was in, but as it happened I was very fortunate & escaped practically unhurt. The crack on my forehead was rather a nasty one, but it turned out to be only slightly more than skin deep & should heal up quite quickly & should not leave a scar. Bar a ducking, Bill got out without a mark, & Iím very thankful for that as I would never have forgiven myself if he had hurt himself. It was just sheer luck that I brought the kite down safely & it wasnít through any skill of my own.
Well, enough of that for the present, except that I can assure you that Iím quite safe & sound, am in Australia with little likelihood of going back into action for some time yet. That is why in a previous letter I said I was absolutely disgusted & disappointed, but perhaps it was all for the best. I donít know yet what is going to happen to us, but Iím hoping that weíll go south very very soon. And even if we donít, my wisdom tooth is giving me trouble, & I should be able to get down to have it out. And as I havenít an aircraft at present, there is little reason why I should be kept here.
One thing Iím really very sorry for is that I lost practically my entire personal & issue clothes and belongings.
In particular I lost all my drab clothes, except what I was wearing, socks, underpants, towels, blankets, handkerchiefs & other things that I canít possibly replace without coupons. Besides that, my camera & all the photos Iíve taken in the last three years will be ruined, my watch was soaked in salt water, my boots & flying boots & sandshoes will be in water for days. And two things Iím most sorry for are your photos which will be ruined, & I was bringing two thousand cigarettes back half of which I intended to give to Max McKay, & half to Dot. They will be absolutely ruined & irreplaceable. Iím trying to get compensation, & have a fair chance of getting it, & I should get anything up to forty pounds. Of course that is still uncertain but Iím hoping. Some things Iíll never replace. But, it could have been my life & Iím very thankful Iím still here. Bill also lost most of his gear with very little chance of salvaging it.
NOTE:- Peter Nielsen's book "Diary of WWII - North Queensland" indicates that A27-224 crashed at Cluffy Point on 23 March 1944. This should state at Cliffy Point on 13 March 1944.
"Diary of WWII - North
Complied by Peter Nielsen
"Aircraft of the RAAF 1921- 71"
By Geoffrey Pentland & Peter Malone
SOURCE:- Aircraft Crash Sites - Australia
Crash: No. 186
Department of Aviation Chart No: 3097
I'd like to thank Paul Larkin (son of W. H. Larkin) for his assistance with this web page.
Can anyone help me with more information on this crash?
© Peter Dunn 2015
This page first produced 20 June 1999
This page last updated 31 August 2015