Loss of Flying Boat CIRCE Feb 28 1942

Discussion about wrecks and losses as well as historic sites in the Pacific.

Moderator: Moderator

Loss of Flying Boat CIRCE Feb 28 1942

Postby alanm » Sun Mar 15, 2009 7:12 pm

The QANTAS flying boat Circe was the last to leave Tjilatjap in Java (Dutch East Indies as it was then) evacuating civilians to Broome, Western Australia on the morning of 28th February 1942. It departed about 8:45 am AEST. Apart from an operational message received around 1 and 1/2 hours after departure, nothing more was heard from Circe, and she never reached her destination. Circe was carrying a crew of 4, and 16 passengers (Dutch nationals).

There have been claims she was shot down by Japanese fighters returning from their involvement in sinking the USS Langley, however that action occurred the day before, so they are probably unlikely to have still been airborne when Circe went missing.

Any/all information would be appreciated.

Regards
Alan M
Belrose - Australia
alanm
Private
 
Posts: 4
Joined: Sun Mar 15, 2009 6:57 pm

Re: Loss of Flying Boat CIRCE Feb 28 1942

Postby GordyB2 » Wed Mar 18, 2009 5:28 am

Hi Alan,

Though no bearing on how it was lost, aside from the then speculation that it was shotdown by the Japanese, the aircraft was being used on contract to the USAAF FEAF , organised through Pan American's Harold Gatty to provide a airlink between Java and Broome at that time between 20/02/42 and 07/03/42. (Indeed QANTAS as part of the original agreement was indemnified for any hull loss. Some of the 17thPS(Prov) Pilots, now sans P-40Es aircraft were some of the first to travel this way back to Australia post 25/02/42) The other contracted C Class Flying Boat was the "Corinthian" skippered by Capt Stephen Howard

However, despite the human loss of G-AETZ's Capt. W B Purton, Crew and passengers, QANTAS was not out of pocket per CIRCE.

This is borne out by the recorded history that QANTAS actually made a successful claim on the US War Department and received 62750 pounds(Aus) in May 1943. On top of that they were also paid the cost of the operations performed to the value of 29125 pounds 8 Shillings and 10 pence(Aus).

This wasn't the first Empire loss in theatre, as "Corio" was lost on the 30/01/42 between Darwin and Surabaya. The opinion was that it was shot down as well. Indeed it was, near Koepang, Timor as advised by the survivors.

This amazing fact was a hinderence to the belief by Officials that there was no survivors per "Circe" had it too considered also shot down nearly a month later. Being a large aircraft, they felt that some passengers or crew would have survived to tell the fate. Alas not.

The real point is that the Japanese were fairly established with landbased fighters and medium types at Bali and Timor at the time, along side of Japanese Carrier forces (Who I think may actually at that time been to the north of Java perhaps). The chance of a aerial conflict at that point in time was quite high in percentage. I guess the only way to resolve this peice of history is to locate the wreck or a eye witness who was there.

Interesting period this was, indeed, though sad for all concerned.

Regards
Gordy
GordyB2
1st Lieutenant
 
Posts: 45
Joined: Thu Feb 05, 2009 5:55 am

Re: Loss of Flying Boat CIRCE Feb 28 1942

Postby alanm » Wed Mar 18, 2009 8:43 pm

Hi Gordy

Many thanks for the info - I did not know this regarding insurance etc. Interesting. Also the impact the loss of the Corio had, in terms of disbelief that Circe could be lost without a trace. This goes some way to explaining the difficulties encountered post-loss with the "authorities" to declare a presumption of death for the crew members. I have no idea how this was handled for the Dutch nationals on board come to think of it.

At present I am trying to resolve that claim by Japanese fighters, supported by reports from the CO of USS Langley, that a large flying boat was shot down at the same time/after the attack that sank the Langley. Langley was lost approx midday on 27th February, Circe did not take off until dawn on 28th. Unless the date of the Langley attack is US date/time, which would have been 27th February still, while local Java time would have been 28th.

But all reports I have read claim Langley sinking was indeed 27th Local Java time.

Regards
Alan M
alanm
Private
 
Posts: 4
Joined: Sun Mar 15, 2009 6:57 pm

Re: Loss of Flying Boat CIRCE Feb 28 1942

Postby GordyB2 » Thu Mar 19, 2009 10:06 pm

Hi Alan,

Yes, I guess the whole period was one of "stun disbelief". Time line, yes the Yanks do quote their own at times for the period per losses, but given the actual dates and Zulu time, the picture develops to the answer that G-AETZ took off later the next day.

The Scheme of the aircraft at the time was civil , silver overall, Titles, with G-AETZ registrations, so maybe it would have been seen. But again, the usual aircraft flying above those days were Japanese. Can't blame them as even a 2 Sqn Hudson can lay claim of damaging the USS Houston in January 42

Attached is part of a court findings dated with regards to the Will of the first Officer who was RAAF

I hope it loaded.

Best
Gordy
GordyB2
1st Lieutenant
 
Posts: 45
Joined: Thu Feb 05, 2009 5:55 am

Re: Loss of Flying Boat CIRCE Feb 28 1942

Postby GordyB2 » Thu Mar 19, 2009 10:10 pm

Obviously not,....2 meg is too big

So after much shrinking and change of file type

Best
Gordy
Attachments
G-AETZ FB Small .jpeg
G-AETZ FB Small .jpeg (54.04 KiB) Viewed 2235 times
GordyB2
1st Lieutenant
 
Posts: 45
Joined: Thu Feb 05, 2009 5:55 am

Re: Loss of Flying Boat CIRCE Feb 28 1942

Postby alanm » Thu Mar 19, 2009 11:20 pm

Hi Gordy

I am intrigued by your information about the scheme of Circe. Is there a source for this?

Here are some pics of Circe including one in wartime livery pre-dating it's disappearance.
http://www.aussieairliners.org/shortfb/g-aetz/gaetz.html
So we have always assumed she would not have been in her regular civilian "silver".

I have seen all that "legal" stuff at Australian National Archives. Thanks for going to the trouble of making small file size copy. I just love that "legalese" reference to "increased hazards"!

Incidentally I take it from your reference to "Yanks" that you are not one of our "American cousins". FYI, my uncle, who was indeed the First Officer on board, was originally from New Zealand (also my birthplace), and he came to Sydney in the Thirties. He was married with a two month old daughter (my cousin, still living in Sydney) at the time of his disappearance; his widow remarried and passed away early last year.

Do you know if any personnel from around that time in Tjilatjap/Qantas crews/Broome personnel are still alive? I would be interested in talking with Stephen Kelly HOWARD in particular. He was captain of the flying boat Corinthian that departed 5 mins before Circe and did make it back to Broome.

Regards
Alan
alanm
Private
 
Posts: 4
Joined: Sun Mar 15, 2009 6:57 pm

Re: Loss of Flying Boat CIRCE Feb 28 1942

Postby GordyB2 » Fri Mar 20, 2009 7:43 pm

Hi Alan,

Thanks for the reference to the actual scheme. It was a gaff on my part as I was going by some actual footage of one of the two Flying Boats there on the period.

Below is a picture still on either the 26/02/42 or 28/02/42 whilst loading, I think, given your information concerning the scheme on the "CIRCE", the "CORINTHIAN" at Tjilatjap. The scheme is too hard to tell, but the underneath the wing seems to have a reflected sheen to it. Could be wear or water, and due to the age and clarity of the picture, I couldn't state whether this one was either camouflaged or Airline scheme. The hull looks dirty light colour, but maybe you can say for sure?

So you're related to this chap. I hope that you can uncover more as these things tend to drive one into a fever to find all. I'll try and find more for you.

I take it you already have the details on the QANTAS Claim per USAAF as you mentioned you have everything ex NAA?

I'll add another pic of the first Officer when I photo still it

Best
Gordy
Attachments
Flying Boat Loading Tjilap Wing 28-02-1942.jpg
Flying Boat Loading Tjilap Wing 28-02-1942.jpg (23.26 KiB) Viewed 2207 times
GordyB2
1st Lieutenant
 
Posts: 45
Joined: Thu Feb 05, 2009 5:55 am

Re: Loss of Flying Boat CIRCE Feb 28 1942

Postby GordyB2 » Fri Mar 20, 2009 10:57 pm

Hi Alan again,

We should mention that the RAAF also lost another that same day in Townsville, so I guess the RAAF were rather fraut with agony on the 2 RAAF losses for the period. This latest one was A18-12 ex-G-AEUG "Coogee" VH-ABC

One of 4 QANTAS S23s contracted, then with a loss of two in a month, I guess the issue was a real concern. In March 42 they did get a fifth aircraft and that was as you know "Clifton" VH-ACD. I think its was a later model,..S33? Became A18-14.

Of course these are outside the two QANTAS contracted S23s.

Got this other picture framed. This one is the passengers and I think the First Officer or Skipper. Film taken by a USAAF Pilot who was being evacuated to Broome. This is prequel to the under wing shot. Theres more files per Broome with the details of comings and goings of the Boats and other Allied Aircraft.

Best
Gordy
Attachments
Flying Boat Loading Tjilap25-02-1942.jpg
Flying Boat Loading Tjilap25-02-1942.jpg (34.43 KiB) Viewed 2201 times
GordyB2
1st Lieutenant
 
Posts: 45
Joined: Thu Feb 05, 2009 5:55 am

Re: Loss of Flying Boat CIRCE Feb 28 1942

Postby GordyB2 » Fri Mar 20, 2009 11:09 pm

Last one for the day

You may have already read this article about the Horseshoe Route and those S23/30/33's that flew it, by Wynnum Graham who is a well known member of ADF-Serials and thorough researcher

http://www.adf-serials.com/research/empireflyingboats.pdf

There are calender entries

Also I've added a 1942-43 colour shot per later "CANOPUS" which may reflect the possible colour of "CIRCE" per the period

Best
Gordy
Attachments
Short S23 Canopus Colour 1943.jpg
Short S23 Canopus Colour 1943.jpg (49.36 KiB) Viewed 2200 times
GordyB2
1st Lieutenant
 
Posts: 45
Joined: Thu Feb 05, 2009 5:55 am

Re: Loss of Flying Boat CIRCE Feb 28 1942

Postby alanm » Sun Mar 22, 2009 1:44 am

Hi Gordy

I don't have all the details about the insurance claim, it may not be on the NAA files for web access yet. What I have seen relates to my uncle's wife's claim for pension etc. The claim info is probably not too important/relevant right now.

However my brothers and I are amazed with these pictures; there is some family resemblance in both the guy leaning against the hull in the first picture (in dark glasses) and the one assisting with the loading in the second (in the peak cap)

I take it these frames are from some movie footage you have - is this source available/accessible in full? It would be great to see it in its entirety.

I had already seen Wynnum's material you provided the link for - thanks - his timeline is interesting. The recall of DENNY's flying boat going to Tjilatjap on 28th is interesting as it appears this instruction came from Sydney, according to the book "Challenging Horizons" about Qantas's history.

Regards
Alan
alanm
Private
 
Posts: 4
Joined: Sun Mar 15, 2009 6:57 pm

Re: Loss of Flying Boat CIRCE Feb 28 1942

Postby GordyB2 » Sat Apr 18, 2009 1:20 am

Hi Alan,

pardon my late reply,....been a few personal problems in health and family in the last passage of time.

Yes the movie film is restricted by the owner, and thus unable. But I must point out though, what you see in stills and the length of time writting this entry is about it. About 3-4 seconds.

I'm glad that you have alot of the details and if I do come across anything further, I'll be sure to pass it on.

Cheers and good health
Gordy
GordyB2
1st Lieutenant
 
Posts: 45
Joined: Thu Feb 05, 2009 5:55 am

Re: Loss of Flying Boat CIRCE Feb 28 1942

Postby silvano jung » Fri Jul 10, 2009 5:18 am

Hi Gordy

Fantastic info. on the Empire boats on the Tjilatjap/Broome shuttle. I hope, for the record, you can name the owner of the film. There was a 6 mm film of the air raid at Broome, but was given to someone to copy and got lost/destroyed in the process. What a pity. The film, apparently, showed Zeros strafing the aerodrome. I hope this film you have wont get lost the same way. It should be copyrighted and shown in the public domain. I'd buy a DVD for sure!

Here's my take on Circe, from my Ph.D. (2008) thesis on the WWII aviation archaeology at Broome:

''The last two flying boats that Brain had sent to Tjilatjap – Corinthian in command of Cpt Howard and Circe in command of Cpt Bill Purton – left Tjilatjap within minutes of each other on the morning of 28 February 1942. Howard got through but Purton was never heard of again (Fysh, 1968:145).

Circe became the second Empire flying boat lost to QEA since the start of WWII (Photo. 3.2 and Photo. 3.3). The RAAF meanwhile lost an Empire flying boat leased to them from QEA: A18-12 (ex-Coogee) on 27 February 1942 in Cleveland Bay near Townsville (Series number: A705/15. Control symbol: 163/113/177, NAA; Series number: A11083/1. Control symbol: 906/46/P1, NAA). This incurred heavy casualties to crew and machines. Searches from Broome for Circe continued until fading light on the evening of 28 February 1942. Ambrose speculates what might have happened to Purton, his crew and passengers:

Neither was I in a position to fight back when some hours after take-off, ahead and above me on a closing course I sighted a large Japanese military flying-boat. I think they called this type a Kawanisi [sic] and it was probably the larger Martin boat built under licence.

I began taking evading action but the Japanese aircraft had speed and height advantage and, as I reported later to the General [Gordon Bennett], we were extremely fortunate to reach nearby cloud cover … when I cleared this some 90 seconds later, the enemy aircraft was no longer in sight. The Japanese were using this aircraft for long-range reconnaissance and probably had fuel reserve restrictions to consider if he was going to complete a search patrol in the vicinity of Tjilatjap. I’d have been a good one for the pot but not if it meant a long chase…

I knew Bill Purton was on his way from Broome and might well strike the same aircraft on its return, therefore, although committed to radio silence, I felt justified in initiating a private agreement that we would briefly transmit each other’s initials once if contact was thought necessary. Purton immediately acknowledged my brief call and by agreed abbreviations I warned him of the enemy aircraft and the position of the sighting (Ambrose quoted in Fysh, 1968:144).

Circe has never been found, hence, it has never been proven that the aircraft was shot down. Shores et al. (1992b:241) appears to solve this mystery where he records years later that Circe was indeed shot down by Zeros (not by the Japanese flying boat that Ambrose had seen), together with a MLD Catalina (the Y-65), severely damaged and later abandoned. The action also resulted in the loss of a Japanese pilot, NAP 1/C Toyo-o Sakai, who failed to return. The uncertainty surrounding Circe’s loss caused QEA and the US authorities to argue as to who would foot the bill during post war compensation claims for losses (Series number: A6079/T1. Control symbol: M0938, NAA). The US Government eventually paid compensation for the aircraft’s loss, but guilt could not so easily be attributed to a single factor:

It was the disadvantage of a mixed control of our operations in the rush of a hot retreat that cost Purton and his companions their lives-but it was something that just happened in wartime (Fysh, 1968:147).


I'd be surprised if Purton wasn't shot down, given Japanese air superiority at the time. Aviation archaeology may hope to solve this puzzle sometime, if the wreck is ever found.

Regards
Dr. Silvano Jung
silvano jung
2nd Lieutenant
 
Posts: 21
Joined: Tue Dec 31, 2002 12:44 am
Location: Darwin, Northern Territory

Re: Loss of Flying Boat CIRCE Feb 28 1942

Postby Philthy » Thu Feb 27, 2014 12:53 am

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.

Image

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)

Image

Circe as we think she looked when lost.

(Artwork: David Williams)
Philthy
Private
 
Posts: 2
Joined: Fri Feb 07, 2014 10:03 pm
Location: Melbourne, Australia


Return to Wrecks & Losses

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 2 guests