Mudgee History | War in the Pacific

FLYING BOAT: These amphibians were mainly engaged on patrol work, dropping  limited and essentials supplies to troops and performing rescues.
FLYING BOAT: These amphibians were mainly engaged on patrol work, dropping limited and essentials supplies to troops and performing rescues.

Warrant Officer  Greenhalgh, wireless operator, was a member of a crew of one of the 168 Catalina flying boats used by the RAAF in the Pacific War against the Japanese.

These amphibians were mainly engaged on patrol work, dropping  limited and essentials supplies to troops, mining enemy harbours and sealanes, and performing rescues of airman forced to ditch into the sea.

Ken Greenhalgh was born in Binnaway in 1920 and joined the RAAF in 1941 at the age of 21 years. 

He served most of his time with 37 Squadron and on discharge in 1946, with his brother William, also ex RAAF, acquired a butcher shop in Gulgong and Coolah. 

Later they added a stock and station agency.   

In 1944 Ken was stationed at Melville Bay a flying boat base, in the Northern Territory near Darwin, when he and his crew were engaged upon a mission to lay mines off Macassar the provincial capital of Sulawesi, (Celebes) which was then Dutch territory, and held by the Japanese.

Whilst over the target Ken’s plane was hit by enemy anti-aircraft fire which knocked out the starboard engine of the Catalina.

Getting all the power he could from the port engine, the plane’s captain took the aircraft up to 8,000 feet and safely cleared the target area. 

The port engine then cracked under the terrific strain, and the Catalina had to land in darkness, three miles off shore. It hit the water so hard that many rivets in the hull were sprung.

For twelve hours, eight of these in daylight, the flying boat wallowed in a heavy sea. 

Despite constant bailing the amount of water in the flying boat  increased.

The crew improvised a sea anchor from a parachute and two aerial drogues.

However, a slight breeze kept the flying boat steadily drifting along the coast though no nearer to the shoreline. 

At night on one engine the captain was able to taxi the plane, about 20 miles out to sea.

Fortunately the wireless operator on the Catalina was able to contact base and a few hours later two American Liberator aircraft searching for the downed Catalina arrived.

One strafed a Japanese patrol vessel in the inshore area where the Catalina had been all night. 

The Liberator search planes dropped supplies to the Catalina crew, and left to intercept the rescue aircraft and guide it to the area.

The captain of the rescue plane, also a Catalina, put his aircraft down, in a three foot swell, near the downed plane and the crew and surplus equipment was safely transferred. 

A Liberator aircraft which was circling overhead strafed the damaged flying boat until it burst into flames and sank.

The rescue Catalina aircraft was flown by Flying Officer Armand Andree Eitenne of Gardenvale, Victoria.  

He penetrated 895 miles into enemy territory, in daylight, to rescue the crew from the Catalina aircraft forced down on the ocean through anti-aircraft fire. 

He alighted his craft on the open sea within the range of enemy radar and less than 65 miles from Japanese airstrips. With the utmost coolness and ability he made a successful take-off. 

For this brave rescue he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

Armand was born in Odessa, Russia in 1918 and enlisted in the RAAF in 1941, age 23  years. He did not take his discharge until 1947.    

After War two, I had contact with a Catalina pilot Donald Day, who was born in Melbourne in 1924 and enlisted in 1942.  

Both Don and I were  members of the Maclean Chamber of Commerce. He later became a local councilor, then entered State politics holding the ministerial portfolios of Decentralisation and Development from 1976 to 1984.

Roy Cameron  OAM