Media Release today from the Civil Aviation Historical Society:72-year-old mystery of missing Qantas flying boat Circe solved
Tomorrow is the 72nd anniversary of the disappearance of Qantas Empire flying boat Circe
on a flight from Java to Broome. Now, after 72 years, the mystery of the vanished airliner has finally been solved. Circe
disappeared on a flight from Tjilatjap, Java, to Broome, Western Australia, on Saturday, 28 February 1942. She was carrying 16 passengers, including a contingent of Dutch diplomats and a US Navy officer, and a crew of four under Captain Bill Purton. Long presumed to have been shot down by Japanese aircraft, no trace was ever found of the aircraft and post-war examination of Japanese records did not reveal her fate. In a long-running dispute over the insurance for the aircraft and her crew, the Australian and US Governments steadfastly maintained that there was no evidence that Circe
was lost due to enemy action.
Through recent research in Australian and Japanese archives by aviation historians Phil Vabre and Osamu Tagaya it can now be confirmed for the first time that Circe
was shot down by a Japanese ‘Betty’ bomber based at Denpasar, Bali. The Betty, flown by Flight Petty Officers Yamamoto and Ashizawa of the Imperial Japanese Navy, was on a maritime patrol when it spotted and engaged Circe
some 200 miles (320 km) south of the Java coast.
The loss of Circe
came at a critical time in the Second World War, just as Japan’s campaign to seize the Netherlands East Indies (today Indonesia) came to its culmination. Although unarmed civil aircraft, the Qantas flying boats, the ‘Jumbo Jets’ of their day, were at this time being employed on charter to US military forces to fly vital supplies and personnel into Java. When loads permitted, they were used to evacuate mostly civilian personnel from Java on the return flights to Broome. Circe
was the second Qantas flying boat to be shot down by Japanese forces, sister-ship Corio
having been shot down off Timor a month earlier.
Phil Vabre is Vice President of the Civil Aviation Historical Society, which operates the Airways Museum at Melbourne’s Essendon Airport. He is currently writing a book about the Qantas Empire flying boats and the Bases that were established to support them on the main air route between Australia and Great Britain.
This is believed to be one of the last photos of Circe
before she disappeared. Note that the aircraft is in camouflage with red, white and blue recognition stripes indicating a civil aircraft. The aircraft was owned by the British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC), hence the British registration G-AETZ, but was being operated by Qantas on an interchange agreement at the time she was shot down.
(Photo: Qantas Heritage Collection)Circe
as we think she looked when lost.
(Artwork: David Williams)