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 Catalina A24-24 became the first Catalina to fly into Bowen, in north Queensland about ten days before 11 Squadron and 20 Squadron formally relocated their operational activities into Bowen from Port Moresby, which was no longer safe from Japanese attack.

Air Commodore A.H. Cobby took over as Air Officer Commanding North-eastern Area (AOC NEA) from Air Commodore Lukis on 25 August 1942. His North-eastern Area Headquarters were located in the old Commonwealth building in Sturt Street, Townsville. In April 1943, Air Commodore Cobby had the following RAAF Squadrons under his command:-


7 Squadron General-reconnaissance Beauforts Ross River airfield, Townsville
9 Squadron Fleet cooperation Seagulls Bowen Flying Boat Base
11 Squadron General-reconnaissance Catalinas Cairns
20 Squadron General-reconnaissance Catalinas Cairns


Combined Operational Intelligence Centre personnel based inside Castle Hill in Townsville would encipher and decipher secret messages to the Coast Watchers in the New Guinea area. They would change their codes every hour. One particular Coast Watcher named Paul Mason who was an ex British Artillery man was located on Bougainville near Faisi and Buin Islands. This was in the area where the Japanese fleet would assemble. He would send signals to COIC Townsville who would then send Catalinas from 11 Squadron and 20 Squadron up to the area to bomb the ships. Mason would give them eight figure map co-ordinates which would allow them to very accurately pinpoint the location of the Japanese shipping. One day a signal was received from Mason to indicate that the Japanese had landed some dogs to help track him down. The Japs knew he was there somewhere. A Catalina was dispatched and it apparently managed to hit the dog's enclosure. Mason was moved and eventually evacuated from Bougainville. 


Robert Ballingall was in 20 Squadron and 11 Squadron, and was then posted to Rathmines as an Instructor Fitter Air Gunner. When the Japs started to be pushed back , 113 Air Sea Rescue was formed. Under skipper Wally Mills Robert Ballingall flew 160 missions (700 air hours). Their crew rescued 15 pilots from the sea .The Crew photo has only 5 of the original crew ,they are the ones named .  Except Col Darling he replaced Bill Hasty who received a Bullet through the stomach during one of the rescues we did .



The story below was prepared by Group Capt Attie G. H. Wearne (Ret'd) DSO DFC the former Commanding Officer of 20 Squadron RAAF. It refers to Catalina operations out of Darwin. Bill Burnett passed this story on to me and kindly obtained Attie Wearne's permission for me to publish it on my web site:-


The saga of the Catalina in it's role of the RAAF'S LONG RANGE STRIKE AND MINELAYING FORCE had it's origin in Port Morseby in the early1940's. This was when 11 Squadron was re-equipped with the newly arrived Catalinas from America in March '41, and subsequently when 20 Squadron was formed, also equipped with Cats.

Although the name of the squadrons never changed from General Reconnaissance (G R) an addition to this role did when six aircraft, three from each squadron, set out for the first raid on Japanese positions, staging through Manus and Kavieng respectively, to attack the Japanese Naval installation at Truk in the Carolines.

From then on bombing attacks continued as the Japanese advanced southward until many targets such as Rabaul, Kavieng, Lae, Buka and Buna were covered. After heavy bombing attacks on Moresby made that base untenable, 11 and 20 Squadrons were relocated back to the mainland, first to Bowen then shortly after, to Cairns. From there they continued their mainly bombing operations until April '43 when part of their effort was allotted to the new role of "minelaying". On the 22nd of that month eight Catalinas from 11 & 20 departed Cairns, each carrying two 2000 lb mines to lay them in Silver Sound in the approaches to Kavieng. Thus began a new era for the "Catalina Force".

In September '44, 20 squadron was relocated to a new base, East Arm at Darwin, from where it operated until the end of the war. At the same time 11 Squadron was relocated to Rathmines. Meanwhile 43 Squadron had been formed at Karumba, in the Gulf of Carpentaria, and relocated in April '44 to Darwin. At Darwin the unit was first housed on the Airfield but then moved to facilities at Doctor's Gully. A third squadron, number 42 also equipped with Catalinas, was formed about this time and located at Melville Bay on Arnhem Land just East of Darwin. The three squadrons formed number 76 Wing with Headquarters located at Doctor's Gully.

After the introduction of mines in April '43 the bombing effort of the Catalinas would gradually decrease until the three squadrons were virtually totally committed to the minelaying campaign with singular success. However, the General Reconnaissance role was not lost and the occasional supply drop, sea reconnaissance, and sea rescue was undertaken.

From Darwin the Catalinas of the Wing ranged over the whole of the then Netherlands East Indies (NEI) from Sourabaya and Banka Straits in the West, to Irian Jaya in the East and North to Borneo, the Halmaheras and the Celebes. All mineable harbours and roadsteads were sowed with mines and Japanese shipping was dislocated to the extreme. To reach some of these targets it was often necessary to refuel at forward staging bases such as West Bay and Yampe Sound. In addition American seaplane servicing ships in forward areas were used for this purpose. Towards the end of the war our aircraft staged north through the Philippines, at Leyte Gulf and Lingayen, to mine ports on the China coast including Hong Kong the Pescadores and Wenchow, 28 degees north latitude - the most northerly penetration of any RAAF aircraft in the war in the Pacific, and so made history.

One particular highlight of the campaign was the mining of Manila Harbour when 27 Catalinas left Darwin to rendezvous in Leyte Gulf for the task. On this occasion the Wing was augmented by 6 aircraft of 11 Squadron flown up from Rathmines. The object of the operation was to bottle up the Japanese Fleet in Manila pending General MacArthur's invasion of Mindoro. This operation was completely successful and the object achieved.

Another "Cat" unit, 112 Air Sea Rescue Flight, provided cover for Liberator strikes and various other tasks.

RAAF "Cats" were the first to bomb Japanese installations after the downward thrust to New Guinea, they were the first to bomb Japanese occupied ports from the Netherlands East Indies to the China Coast, they were the first in and last out in the evacuation of our prisoners of war at the cessation of hostilities.



Considering that they were designed in 1935 the Catalina must be classed as the most successful and longest operating flying boat ever built. Powered by 2 Pratt & Whitney engines of 1200hp each, it had a range of 2500 miles (4000km), could carry a bomb load of 4000 pounds (1815kg), a wingspan of 104 feet (31.7m), a fuselage length of 63 10 inches (22.4m) 1711 (5.1m) high and a loaded weight 0f 35,420 pounds (16,100kg). Although slow in comparison to some of the land based aircraft its versatility made it ideal for the type of work it was to be engaged in. Many operations exceeded 22hrs in the air.

Front line aircraft: No other RAAF aircraft fought at the front line of the Pacific War from the beginning of that war until stopped, 500 nautical miles from mainland Japan by the imminent dropping of the atomic bomb.

During WW11 the RAAF had 168 Catalina flying boats on strength within Australia and the Western Pacific,68 of which were lost to enemy action or aircraft accident.

From all Catalina Squadrons and support units 320 aircrew lost their lives in the defence of their country.

That ground crew continued to do their work with exactitude and dedication is deserving of recognition. This has been seldom given except by the aircrews themselves whose lives depended upon their skills



Note:- David Cohan contacted me in November 2013 and advised that the Australian War Memorial Official Histories states that there were 24 Catalinas rather than 27 as reported by Group Captain Wearn, with a 25th US Catalina, presumably based at Leyte or nearby,joining the operation to drop "window".



I'd like to thank Bill Burnett and David Cohan for thir assistance with this web page.



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This page first produced 28 May 2005

This page last updated 13 January 2020