Geoffrey William COVENTRY


COVENTRY, Geoffrey William

Service Numbers: Not yet discovered
Enlisted: Not yet discovered
Last Rank: Squadron Leader
Last Unit: No. 11 Squadron (RAAF)
Born: North Adelaide, South Australia, 15 February 1917
Home Town: Port Augusta, Port Augusta, South Australia
Schooling: Port Augusta Primary School and Adelaide High School, South Australia
Occupation: Clerk in South Australian Railways
Died: Accidental (Flying Accident), Coral Sea, 2 May 1944, aged 27 years
Cemetery: No known grave - "Known Unto God"
Commemorated at the Sydney War Cemetery
Memorials: Australian War Memorial Roll of Honour, Port Augusta District WW2 Honour Board, Port Augusta Swimming Club Memorial Garden and Arch, Sydney Memorial (Sydney War Cemetery) Rookwood
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World War 2 Service

5 Dec 1942: Transferred Royal Australian Air Force, No. 9 Squadron (RAAF)
9 Jan 1943: Transferred Royal Australian Air Force, No. 11 Squadron (RAAF)
2 Mar 1943: Transferred No. 3 Operational Training Unit Rathmines
14 Jun 1943: Transferred Royal Australian Air Force, No. 11 Squadron (RAAF)
26 Aug 1943: Transferred Royal Australian Air Force, No. 43 Squadron (RAAF)
4 Mar 1944: Transferred Royal Australian Air Force, Squadron Leader, No. 11 Squadron (RAAF)
13 Mar 1944: Promoted Royal Australian Air Force, Squadron Leader, No. 11 Squadron (RAAF), Promoted to Commanding Officer of 11 Squadron, Catalina Flying Boats.

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Biography contributed by John Baker

"On Borrowed Time"

When Squadron-Leader and Commanding Officer Geoffrey William Coventry of the 11th Squadron RAAF returned to base along with his crew after a raid on Manokwari Harbour in western New Guinea in early 1943, they had something for their Intelligence Officer’s narrative report. What they had was a frank admission that they were indeed back from their mission, but didn’t know how.

Coventry had flown in a Catalina on a bombing and reconnaissance mission over Manokwari Harbour. They came in across the bay at a very low altitude and were immediately met by a concentration of light and medium anti-aircraft fire. “There was tracer flying past us on every side,” his crew later admitted, “it was the hottest show a Catalina had ever come out of.” Coventry told the intelligence officer that he thought he was now living on borrowed time.

Since the days of the first battles around Port Moresby, Coventry had been flying a lone Catalina through the night across long stretches of sea. For a few months he was a watch controller at the fighter sector, and on many a night when Moresby was raided by the Japanese, he sat through the monotonous ‘Dog Watches’, waiting for the Japanese flying boats to come down from Rabaul and attack the seven-mile strip.

Back in the Catalinas, Coventry played an important role in the Battle of the Bismarck Sea. On the night of March 2, 1943, he was stalking a Japanese supply convoy, radioing its position back to Bomber Command, whose great force of heavy and medium bombers was poised to strike its greatest blow the following morning provided the convoy came within range. Just before nightfall the convoy had turned toward Wewak from a point at the north of Vitiaz Strait. However, as night fell, it instead wheeled about and made full steam for Lae.

Coventry hovered over the ships and sealed their doom, his wireless operator sending through regular messages. The staff chiefs at Bomber Command saw this new development to their advantage, as it meant that the convoy was entering the range of their medium bombers and Beaufighters. Coventry unloaded bombs at regular intervals during the long night and drew anti-aircraft from the destroyers, “just to give them a hell of a night”. He did not observe any direct hits, but his greatest contribution to the Bismarck Sea Battle was his regular plotting of the convoy’s course well into the dawn of Wednesday, March 3. Before lunch on that day most of the Japanese ships would be destroyed.

According to his RAAF colleagues, Coventry was always on top of his game and it was difficult to say which particular adventure was his greatest. His series of flights from Moresby across central New Guinea, for the Australian New Guinea Administrative Unit (ANGAU), were perhaps his most outstanding. He and his group of Catalinas were the first to make a series of such flights, and they brought back a wealth of material and reconnaissance that was invaluable later to the ANGAU.

Shortly after the Manokwari raid on the 2nd May 1944, Coventry was called upon to deliver a pump to a small American ship which was in difficulties due to a leak. The ship was lying some distance out from Milne Bay in open water. In heavy weather, and against his better judgment, Coventry set down his flying boat on the rough sea and delivered the pump to the Americans.  Damage had been done to the Catalina on landing, and, when the flying boat attempted to take off, rivets were sprung and the aircraft crashed on its nose. Coventry was killed, but the rest of his crew escaped.

Squadron-Leader Coventry had used up his borrowed time.



Biography contributed by John Baker

RAAF PBY-5 Catalina, A24-32 (USN 08156), crashed on take-off and sank in the Coral Sea on 2 May 1944. The Captain of the Catalina was Squadron Leader Geoffrey William Coventry.

Squadron Leader Geoffrey Coventry (457) was appointed Commanding Officer of 11 Squadron, RAAF in Cairns, north Queensland in March 1944. 

On 2 May 1944, S/Ldr Coventry responded to a distress call from a United States Army vessel F-117 which urgently required a pump to remove water from its engine room. After locating the vessel, some 500 miles from Cairns in the Coral Sea, Sqn Ldr Coventry circled the area a few times to inspect the water for a suitable location to land. There was a swell of approximately 11 feet and a 15 knot wind across the waves at about 30 degrees which was causing choppy seas. Coventry decided to land in a spot which appeared to have less swell. The Army vessel was accompanied by three other ships including a Tug. The approximate location was 16 degrees 15 minutes South and 154 degrees, 50 minutes East.

The Catalina was brought in at about 70 knots and touched tail first whilst still travelling quite fast. The aircraft bounced a little, then hit the top of a very large swell, and dropped for an appreciable time. The impact dislodged earphones and such like and knocked out six rivets in the pilot's compartment and four in the Navigator's compartment. The 1st Engineer reported buckles in the hull and engine nacelles.

With great difficulty, S/Ldr Coventry transferred the pump to the Army vessel. A taxiing test was tried across the swells and Sqn Ldr Coventry decided to continue on into a take-off. The Catalina was swung down wind and commenced to bounce off the swells, hitting very hard. The engines were then pulled off at approximately 40 knots and the attempted takeoff abandoned. Rivets were now gone in the Engineer's compartment. The Fitter IIA had stated before taxiing that the hull was damaged and likely to break up. The 1st W.O.A.G. stated that at the time some of the stringers in the Navigator's compartment were buckled and the small transmitter had been dislodged and had to be tied down.

The Captain conferred with the crew and decided that it was best to attempt another takeoff. The aircraft was bilged and another takeoff was attempted almost into the wind and slightly across the swell. On approximately the third bounce the aircraft hit the swell at a slight angle and broke in two places. One at the No. 2 Bulkhead and the other mid way between No. 4 and No. 5 Bulkheads.

This caved in the Captain's side of the compartment and killed him instantly. The aircraft did not sink immediately, and the other eight crew members escaped through the openings in the hull and blister compartments. Use was made of one of the rubber dinghies by some of the crew to reach the Tug which had moved round and was standing by off the port quarter. The others were thrown life lines and hauled on board the Tug.

The bow of the aircraft was by then all under water and the tail from the blister aft was standing high out of the water. The Tug was backed up to the port wing tip and a line passed over the wing tip float. The Tug went ahead in the hope of trying to raise the forward section of the hull in an attempt to retrieve the body of Squadron Leader G.W. Coventry. However the wing broke  at the port joint and then the tow line sheared through the float itself and the line came free, No further attempt was made to raise the hull.

A boat was still standing by the aircraft when the remainder of the crew departed for Milne Bay on board the Tug.

The following is a list of the full crew members of Catalina A24-32:-
Sqn/Ldr Geoffrey William Coventry (457) - Captain - killed
F/Lt J. Le Gay Brereton (260697) - 2nd Pilot
F/O R.L. Bodie (401487) - Navigator "B"
F/O Kenneth Willmott Towns (409345) - 1st W.O.A.G.
F/Sgt Keith Reginald Paris (419005) - 2nd W.O.A.G.
Sgt. R.M. Draper (24175) - 1st Engineer
Sgt Douglas Sykes (23912) - 2nd Engineer
LAC A/Sgt C.B. McL Lucas (12372) - Fitter 11A / AG
Sgt Stanley William A. Leek (13848) - Armourer / AG

This aircraft was originally delivered to the RAAF in January 1943.