Kevin Coombs 2013
|Captain Wing Commander John "Jack" William Daniell, 140 (MIA / KIA) Mount Lawley, WA
2nd Pilot Sqn/Ldr Eric Hamilton Barkley, 250281 (MIA / KIA) Malvern, VIC
Navigator Flying Officer Lewis "Lou" Melvin Dunham, 406672 (MIA / KIA) Claremont, WA
1st Engineer Sergeant Norman Notley Moore, 408861 (MIA / KIA) Balwyn, VIC
2nd Engineer Corporal John Corbett Stain, 2437 (MIA / KIA) Mount Lawley, WA
1st W/T Sgt Allen Richard Eather, 402703 (MIA / KIA) Enmore, NSW
2nd W/T Sgt Alexander Eric John Elsbury, 415378 (MIA / KIA) East Perth, WA
Rigger Sgt John Daniel O'Grady, 5778 (MIA / KIA) St. Kilda, VIC
Armourer Corporal Douglas Giffen Shaw Russell, 13970 (MIA / KIA) Footscray, VIC
Supernumerary Sergeant Keith Arnold Watson, 22692 (MIA / KIA) Lismore, NSW
Supernumerary F/O Stuart Patrick King, 255266 20 Sqn intel (MIA / KIA) Glen Iris, VIC
Crashed February 28, 1943
Built by Consolidated at San Diego. Constructors number 273. Royal Air Force (RAF) serial number V9708. Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) serial number VA708. Ferried overseas to Australia.
Delivered to the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) on April 14, 1942 as Catalina A24-25. Assigned to 11 Squadron on May 18, 1942. No known nickname or nose art.
On February 28, 1943 took off from Cairns Harbor Seaplane Base at dusk on a seventeen hour anti-submarine patrol to escort a convoy bound for Milne Bay. At 22:51, this Catalina sent an incomplete message which contained the words "force land", the message was received at Townsville. Nothing more was heard and this aircraft failed to return from the mission.
On the ground, RAAF personnel reported that an aircraft had been seen circling Fitzroy Island ESE of Cairns. They reported that an aircraft rounded Cape Grafton and disappeared in a north easterly direction. This information led to an incorrect conclusion that the Catalina may have force landed in the sea northeast of Green Island.
The Court of Inquiry recorded this Catalina crashed at sea while attempting to land due to exhaustion of its fuel supply. In fact, this Catalina crashed into the sea off the Frankland Islands, near Gordonvale. When this aircraft failed to return, the entire crew was listed as Missing In Action (MIA).
A three day search for this Catalina was unsuccessful. There were no witnesses and no sightings of wreckage or crew during subsequent searches.
During early August 2013, Kevin Coombs a SCUBA diver from Cairns discovered the remains of a Catalina flying boat in about 40 meters of water off the Frankland Islands, near Gordonvale. The Frankland Islands are about 40 kms NNE of Innisfail. Afterwards, the wreckage was reported to the RAAF, who planned an investigation of the Catalina.
During August 2015, RAAF Air Force investigators and a representative of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority accompanied a Navy Clearance Dive Team from HMAS Cairns dove the wreckage to confirm the aircraft was Catalina A24-25.
On September 21, 2015 a Australian Department of Defence news release "WWII Catalina aircraft wreckage confirmed" confirmed the wreckage was Catalina A24-25. According to the RAAF, they intend to leave the aircraft where it lies as a mark of respect to the crew whose remains are likely to be entombed in the wreckage. The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority in consultation with Air Force has declared the site a Maritime Cultural Heritage Special Management Area in order to protect it. Air Force will hold a memorial service and place a commemorative plaque in Cairns to honour the crew early next year.
The entire crew was officially declared dead on the day of the mission. All are memorialized at Bomana Cemetery on the Port Moresby Memorial, panel 9.
On February 28, 2016 Australian Department of Defence conducted a memorial service at the Catalina Memorial on the Cairns Esplanade in Cairns for family members. The ceremony began with the flyby of a AP-3C Orion from 11 Squadron. A memorial plaque was placed at the Catalina Memorial honoring the crew. The memorial plaque reads:
Royal Australian Air Force
Tragically Lost on 28 February 1943
In memory of the crew of Number 11 Squadron Catalina A24-25
They gave their lives on 28 February 1943 when their aircraft crashed 30 nautical miles south east of this point near the Franklin Islands, following a 17 hour anti submarine escort mission to a convoy in the Coral Sea bound for Milne Bay.
Wing Commander John William Daniell, 140, Age 26
Squadron Leader Eric Hamilton Barkley, 250281, Age 27
Flying Officer Lewis Melvin Dunham, 406672, Age 32
Flying Officer Stuart Patrick King, 255266, Age 36
Sergeant Norman Notley Moore, 408861, Age 27
Sergeant Keith Arnold Watson, 22692, Age 23
Sergeant John Daniel O'Grady, 5778, Age 36
Sergeant Allen Richard Eather, 402703, Age 21
Sergeant Alexander Eric John Elsbury, 415378, Age 22
Corporal Douglas Giffen Shaw Russell, 13970, Age 21
Corporal John Corbett Stain, 2437, Age 32
Their sacrifice, our freedom the sea is their grave
Lest we forget
RAAF Status Card A-24-25
John William Daniell
Eric Hamilton Barkley
CWGC - Lewis Melvin Dunham
Norman Notley Moore
CWGC - John Corbett Stain
CWGC - Allen Richard Eather
Alexander Eric John Elsbury
John Daniel O'Grady
Douglas Giffen Shaw Russell
CWGC - Keith Arnold Watson
CWGC - Stuart Patrick King
ADF Serials - Catalina A24-25
RAAFDB - Consolidated PBY Catalina A24-25
Oz@War "28 February 1943 crash of Catalina in the sea near Frankland Island off Gordonvale, QLD"
Vimeo - WWII Wreck "Diving the Catalina Boat Plane"
video by Cairns Wreck and Tech June 23, 2015
Australian Department of Defence news release "WWII Catalina aircraft wreckage confirmed" September 21, 2015
Australian Department of Defense news release "Closure for Catalina Families" February 29, 2016
Australian Department of Defense Catalina A24-25 memorial servie photo archive
Thanks to Greg Williams and Daniel Leahy for additional information
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January 5, 2018