Zero Hour in Broome – the untold story that should not have been retold?
Dr Silvano Jung
Ellengowan Enterprises – archaeological consultant
Tom Lewis and Peter Ingman, 2010. Zero Hour in Broome: the untold story of the attacks on northwest Australia in 1942
. Avonmore Books, Kent Town, South Australia, 2010, soft cover, 184 pages, ISBN 9780957735156. AU$44.95.
Background: The Royal Netherlands Naval Air Service (MLD) remembers 3 March 1942 as the darkest day in its history. On that day the Japanese used a ‘surgeon’s knife’ (a single air group consisting of only ten aircraft), as opposed to the 188 aircraft ‘hammer’ used in the Darwin air raids 12 days earlier, to attack Broome for the first time. It became Australia’s third most devastating air raid. The Japanese flew from Kupang (West Timor). Their mission: to destroy all aircraft at the Broome aerodrome and surrounding area, thereby closing the aerial escape route from Java. On arriving, they were shocked at the sight on Broome’s Roebuck Bay; fifteen Allied flying boats were anchored on the water. The Allies too were caught off guard, although many realised the previous night’s Japanese aerial reconnaissance must have been a precursor to an attack the next day. 1st Air Private Yasuo Matsumoto (a rare WWII Zero pilot survivor) described the scene of devastation as ‘our great fruits of battle were beyond expectations’. All the flying boats were sunk and six land planes were destroyed on the aerodrome. Over 100 people were killed, mostly Dutch women and children, evacuees from Java.
Zero Hour in Broome is a magnificent colour production, with superb line drawings of all the ship and aircraft types involved in the story of the Japanese air raids in Western Australia. I would have bought it just for some of the rare photographs it contains. For example, a wonderful photograph of the United States Navy (USN) Seagull at Broome on page 50.
Apart from a number of useful, previously unknown pieces in the jigsaw puzzle of the raid’s history, there are few new insights to this significant event in Australia’s WWII history. Indeed the book is fundamentally flawed by an unverifiable, at times even ludicrous, re-interpretation of historical facts.
On hearing of a new book on the Broome air raid, I was excited at the prospect of reading new material, or new perspectives. Sadly the book did not provide these. The authors state that previous histories of the raid contain inaccuracies that present a danger in ‘that such false “facts” become perpetuated in subsequent historical works and are thus widely accepted given the gilt-edged reputation of the original source’ (page 137), and then Lewis and Ingman perpetuate those same erroneous ‘facts’.
For a start the book is mistitled. The story of the West Australian Japanese air raids has been published elsewhere. ‘Zero Hour’ incidentally, is the title of a website founded by Michael McCarthy and Jon Davidson in 2001, ostensibly to provide a website for aviation archaeological researchers and conservators. Of note, Perth-based author Mervyn Prime has been researching the raid since the 1970s and has produced a booklet called WA’s Pearl Harbour: the Japanese air raid on Broome
(Broome Historical Society), with subsequent editions entitled Broome’s one day war: the story of the Japanese raid on Broome on 3rd March 1942
. Stan Gajda’s 1980 article called To ‘identify a wartime wreck: seeking the past in the tidal flats of Broome’, Book of Flying
, Yaff Publishing Group, reports on early digs at wreck sites to establish their identity by finding diagnostic artefacts. The West Australian Government, through the Heritage of Western Australia Act 1990
, declared the Broome flying boat wreck sites as heritage places on 17 April 2003. This West Australian initiative represents the first time that located submerged aircraft wreck sites are formally protected as heritage sites in Australia.
Paragraph two in the introduction refers to ‘Qantas’ and continues to throughout the book. Qantas had no presence at Broome. During WWII Qantas owned only five Catalina flying boats and they were used for the famous Double Sunrise flights between Perth and Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). Qantas Empire Airways (QEA), an entirely separate organisation to Qantas, is the proper historical designation for the Short Empire flying boats in Australian service just before the Pacific war. From Singapore, QEA operated the ‘Kangaroo’ leg of Imperial Airways Limited’s (IAL) aerial route to Australia. When IAL and British Airways (BA) merged in 1940, primarily as an exigency of war, the new corporation was named British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC). The photograph on page 14 even shows the BOAC Speedbird symbol at Broome, on the nose of the Short Empire flying boat Coriolanus
. One of the Short Empire flying boats lost at Broome, Corinna
, was a BOAC aircraft at the time of its loss, while the second (a former IAL aircraft) was Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF). Hence, there were no QEA aircraft lost at Broome either, let alone Qantas. The others were nine MLD, two USN and two Royal Air Force (RAF).
The rehashed reference to the mutual shoot down of a B-17 Liberator and A6M2 Zero is a problem. The authors imagine themselves as a Japanese pilot attacking a B-17 Flying Fortress after it had just taken off from Broome (pages 14-15). Unfortunately there were only two B-17s at Broome and both were on the ground during the attack. In the Lewis and Ingman account, the Japanese pilot is surprised by the appearance of a tail gunner, which damages his Zero to such an extent that it crashes somewhere into the sea. The first recorded version of this story was by Lieutenant Commander Henry Juta of the MLD, a survivor of the loss of the Catalina Y-67, who states that:
I was told that about 10 aircraft had been destroyed by machine gun fire. The 11th aircraft, an American Flying Fortress loaded with nurses from Java, had just taken off when it was attacked by two Jap [sic] fighters. The tail gunner of the Fortress shot down one of the fighters but the other plastered the Fortress with machine and cannon fire and the Fortress fell into the sea (n.d. The Living Past).
Then this B-17 magically transmogrifies into a B-24. The caption for the photograph of B-24A Liberator 40-2370 (page 15) claims that it is the aircraft shot down off Broome. The original caption for this photograph, from Bob Livingston’s 1998 book entitled: Under the Southern Cross: the B-24 Liberator in the South Pacific
, Turner Publishing Company, reads: ‘B-24A 40-2370 at Amberley, Queensland, February 1942, preparing to act as escort for P-40s of the 49th FG. Note that the ATC logo has been painted out’ (Livingstone, page 19). The original caption has no mention of this aircraft’s demise at Broome either at sea or on land.
By page 21, the authors are convinced of their assumption: ‘Most significantly, it appears that aerial combat between W/O Kudo’s Zero and the B-24A Arabian Nights
[nickname] resulted in both planes crashing into the ocean’. On page 63 it is claimed that Arabian Nights
was well armed. The authors contradict themselves (page 45) by stating that B-24A Liberators were ‘configured solely as transports’. If they were configured as transports, they would not have been armed. Did they not consider the possibility that Arabian Nights
may have been unarmed, given it was on an aero-medical mission from Java and armourments would have restricted space for the wounded?
Another source that indicates 40-2374 was unarmed is recounted in Bill Bartsch’s 2010 publication called Every day a nightmare: American Pursuit Pilots in the Defense of Java, 1941-1942
, published by Texas A&M University Press. The account is from the personal recollections of the attack on the aircraft by its only survivor, Sergeant Melvin Donoho:
… heard a ‘funny noise’ above the sound of the four motors and looked up from his position in the bottom of the bomb bay. Donoho then saw something that looked like an electric charge for a welding arch jumping, coming in one side of the fuselage above his head. It kept hitting the wall with splattering fire. ‘Incendiaries,’ he realized. He tried to get as low as he could, then crawled forward on the B-24A’s midway catwalk. Other passengers above him were trying to move back to the tail to avoid being burned. But the flames had now caught the overhead gas tank and the rear of the bomber had become an inferno. ‘It’s all over,’ Donoho figured, and lay down, waiting for the inevitable (Bartsch, page 328).
Of note is that Donoho did not hear or see any tail gunner firing and that the realisation that they were being attacked only occurred to him when he saw incendiaries hitting the fuselage. Furthermore, the attack also appeared to be from abeam and not from astern as Lewis and Ingman suggest.
Bartsch (page 328) records that 40-2374 was unarmed and that it carried a crew of only 3, with 19 passengers – a total of 22 people on board. The crew, of course, would have consisted of pilot, co-pilot and perhaps a navigator, but certainly no air gunners. Lewis and Ingman only counted the total casualties as 19 on the basis that:
Comprehensive searches of the database held by the Untied States Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office (http:www.dtic.mil/dpmo
) by the authors in August 2009 confirm that the above 19 men is the precise and correct casualty list (page 156).
The authors failed to include Lieutenant Clyde Basie, United States Army Air Corps (page 156). The casualty list must be at least 20. Twenty-one in total on board the aircraft including Donoho, who survived. Indeed determining any precise casualty list from the raid is nigh on impossible, as there were no accurate records kept; the authors were claiming to quantify something that is not quantifiable. Later the authors state (page 55) that ‘In recent operations B-24s had carried as many [as] 35 passengers’, but because the wounded took up more space, only 20 could be accommodated on that flight. Was the space taken up by stretcher cases or walking wounded? Historians have previously suggested 30 to 33 people on board. Only 21 of these people can be verified, but it is not inconceivable that the aircraft may have been carrying more. We will never know exactly how many.
The authors fail to identify correctly which B-24 was shot down. According to data from Livingston, a highly respected author on the history of B-24s, a primary reference source quotes the following accident report from the American Air Force:
ACCREP 420303 B-24C 74 Broome, Australia 5 Stafford, Charles A AST At Sea, Australia.
The aircraft designation ‘C’ is wrong, but the ‘74’ must refer to B-24A 40-2374. Usually the first name in the accident report is the pilot’s, but in this instance it was the doctor’s. The photograph (page 15) and line drawing (page 42) are, therefore, not of the B-24A shot down over the sea. Furthermore, 40-2374 had no known nickname. Livingston recently shared with me a photograph of a B-24A, which had painted below its cockpit the words: ‘Arabian Knight’. The consensus among researchers now, in this area of aviation intrigue, is that the B-24A Arabian Knight
(not Arabian Nights
) (serial number 40-2370) was destroyed on the aerodrome.
The authors also fail to give any credence to the generally accepted claim that it was Lieutenant Gus Winckel of the Royal Netherlands Air Force (KLu) who shot down Kudo, while standing but a few metres from his aircraft on the aerodrome. The authors state categorically that Matsumoto, who ditched his crippled Zero en route to Kupang, lost his aircraft as a result of being hit by Winckel’s fire. Winckel did not aim at any aircraft; he simply pointed the machine gun at a point in front of him, through which the low flying Zero must pass. Winckel could see the pilot’s face! The Zero flew through Winckel’s stream of fire. The authors re-tell Winckel’s shoot down of a Zero in a different way:
He [Winckel] mounted the barrel of the gun on one forearm and fired with the other. Aircraft machine guns have thin barrels and fast rates of fire as they rely on slipstreams for cooling. Apparently he was burnt severely, almost to the bone. One witness said ‘I don’t think he did any damage but we all felt much better for his efforts’. Given the difficulties of firing a machinegun in such a manner, this was probably the most likely outcome. Nevertheless, it is probable that he hit one or more of the attacking Zeros. Private Matsumoto’s Zero was shot through the ‘body tank’ over the airfield and later ditched before reaching its base (page 60).
Lewis and Ingman’s account of who killed Kudo is contradictory. They explain that Matsumoto was hit by Winckel and yet, on page 17, state that his fuel ran out due to his inexperience. In a letter to Prime, dated 17 July 1978, Matsumoto never noted that his plane was on fire during his flight back to Kupang; he attributed his ditching to fuel exhaustion, and not because of his inexperience, but because there were more targets at Broome than anticipated. Given the spirit of the Japanese pilots at the time, one would think that they would not have left Broome without destroying all aircraft, even if it meant that they wouldn’t have had the fuel to return to base. Winckel’s deadly arc is still the most likely explanation for Kudo’s failure to return to base. No one saw Kudo crash, but Winckel was adamant that the Zero was hit and that it trailed smoke afterwards.
Other exciting factual accounts of the raid are omitted. All of the Zeros except for one, which returned to Kupang, had bullet holes in them. Winckel could not have hit them all! There was other recorded resistance to the Zeros, not from the land, but from the flying boats. Despite the author’s claim that the MLD’s flying boats were ‘Clearly … not in a fighting condition’ (page 58), the MLD’s Flight Sergeant Henk Hasselo, pilot of the Dornier X-1, manned a tail gun and fired back until his flying boat sank. He recollects hitting at least one Zero, but with no noticeable effect. Most Broome researchers overlook the oral history accounts of the active participants, which indicate the flying boats in Roebuck Bay were not entirely a passive target. It was a battlefield with fierce machinegun exchanges between the Zeros and some of the flying boats. One of the RAF Catalinas tried to return fire, but the gunner, Leading Aircraftman Jimmy Bowden, was hit in the face by shrapnel from Japanese bullets, before letting off a single round. Bowden survived to tell the tale.
Other historical inaccuracies are the aircraft service histories. The RAF Catalina serial numbers quote in the book ie, FV-N (W8433) and FV-W (W8423), are wrong. Catalina FV-N was a former 202 Squadron RAF aircraft, with the serial number: AJ154. FV-W was ex-MLD with the serial number Y-54. Another case in point is the discussion of the two USN Catalinas that were sunk. These machines, early model PBY-4s, were differentiated from the other Catalinas in Roebuck Bay, which were all late model PBY-5s, not only by their engine diagnostics, but also by other features: ‘They were distinguishable by their lack of “bubble” waist blisters (introduced on the last three PBY-4s only)’ (page 53). The authors failed to realise that one of these blister-equipped prototypes was lost at Broome. This is an important archaeological consideration; the blister equipped PBY-4 is a rare aircraft. There are actually two prototype flying boats lost in Broome; the other is the Dornier X-1. These wreck sites are significant pieces in Broome’s museum beneath the sea, although archaeologists have yet to locate the USN flying boat.
The PBY-4 line drawing (page 53) has a conspicuous error: early PBY-4s had a rudder with rounded trailing edges; later model PBY-5s had a rudder with a straight edge. For an accurate line drawing of a Broome USN Catalina, readers should see Louis Dorny’s 2007 US Navy PBY Catalina Units of the Pacific War
, published by Osprey, which depicts the prototype blister-equipped PBY-4 lost at Broome. Aircraft histories presented in the Lewis and Ingman’s Appendix 4 (page 163), furthermore, appear to be taken from Joe Baugher’s website, with no effort to verify the data it contains. Not only does this website list Arabian Nights
as 40-2370, it perpetuates the historical error that it was shot down.
There are also inconsistencies with spelling in the book. The Short Empire flying boat Corinna
is spelt erroneously as Corrina
(page 35). Other errors involve the identification of service military personnel. For instance, Pilot Officer Man Mohan Singh, who drowned after his Catalina sank, was attached to Number 205 Squadron RAF at the time of his death. The authors not only replicate the error from the Singapore memorial, which lists Singh as having been in the Royal Indian Air Force (RIAF), but also misquote the service as the Indian Air Force (IAF) (page 59). The RIAF, in 1939, had only three squadrons, none of which were equipped with flying boats. The IAF did not come into existence until 1950.
The authors state that ‘the crew [of the RAAF Short Empire A18-10] gave some defensive fire before the machine was destroyed’ (pages 58, 103 and 104). The authors are referring to Wing Commander F.V. Sharpe’s account, but Sharpe was onshore, over a kilometer away, far from A18-10. No, the crew onboard A18-10 did not return fire. The authors suggest that the guns were easy to maneuver: ‘Thus the very simplicity of this set-up enabled some defensive fire to be given’ (page 58). The aircraft’s armourer, Sergeant Doug Dickson, couldn’t manage to get the stowed machineguns into action before the aircraft’s starboard wing was chopped off by cannon fire. They were caught completely by surprise. In a letter to Rae Howard, the then Secretary of the Broome Historical Society, Dickson recalls that:
Frank Russell our 2nd wireless operator followed me aft to help me get my guns up to the shelf we stood on, to protrude through a hatch in the top and mount the guns as I had them down for cleaning prior to take off. Just then there was another large explosion and Frank said as he could not swim would I help him launch the small boat or dinghy as we knew it, however, I had driven a spike into its supporting craddle [sic] the day before to stop it bouncing around and we found it impossible to extract. I glanced around for something to lever it out with and when I looked back Frank had gone, he had dived out of the hatch where we would have launched the dinghy, with his tin hat on a pair of shorts and in a very short space of time he was at least 10 metres past the wing tip doing about 14 knots, for a bloke that could not swim he was doing real well (Dickson, 1992).
We’ve seen inaccuracies in the 40-2374 casualty list. Casualty data provided for the flying boats is equally amiss. Johannes and Jeannette Lokman, for example, both survived and yet, are included in the casualty list. Tragically, four of their five children died, but only three are listed. The problem is the authors’ failure to question the veracity of their source material. The casualty list they quote is from the Allied War Memorial in Bedford Park, Broome, unveiled in 1992 for the fiftieth anniversary. Much information has come to light since then.
In conclusion, the authors have produced a body of work that fails in its stated goal to address the inaccuracies of historians on the Broome attack and have, therefore, scuttled their own boat. As a coffee table book, with its impressive array of photographs, maps and coloured line drawings, it will appeal to those who have not heard of the raid.
But what a pity, Lewis and Ingman had an opportunity to offer the families of the people killed in the raid a book that may have helped to explain what really happened to their loved ones. Instead, it makes the mists of time cloudier than the waters of Roebuck Bay. Generally ignored in this book, the survivors and their families will get no sense of closure from it.
Silvano Jung graduated with a Ph.D. in 2009 from Charles Darwin University, Darwin. His thesis is entitled: Australia’s Undersea Aerial Armada: the aviation archaeology of World War II flying boats lying in Roebuck Bay, Broome, Western Australia
. Since 2004, Jung has published four papers on the results of his research in the Bulletin of the Australasian Institute for Maritime Archaeology