Attack on Broome - March 1942
By Ned Young
On the 3rd of March 1942, two weeks after Darwin was bombed by the Japanese, Broome was attacked in a raid that killed at least 88 people. Broome was an important base for the refuelling of Allied aircraft, however it did not house any fighter planes of its own, meaning it was practically defenceless against an air raid. Japanese Zero’s strafed Dutch flying boats in Roebuck Bay and the RAAF Base at the Broome Airfield. A USAAF B-24A Liberator was shot out of the sky, killing 19 of the 20 passengers onboard. That was just one of at least 22 aircraft destroyed. Most of these vessels were carrying Dutch refugees evacuating from Java, of which at least 30 were killed, among them children as young as a year old.
The attack may seem insignificant in the grand scheme of the Pacific theatre, yet Broome’s only hour at war produced incredible stories of bravery, camaraderie, bereavement and mystery that remain largely unknown. This week, I will feature 7 stories from the attack on Broome that have captivated me.
Read Monday's article "The Art of Jack Dale Mengenen" Here.
Read Tuesday's article "Silent His Wings - A Sister’s Tribute" Here.
Read Wednesday's article "Gus Winckel’s Bronze Lion" Here.
Read Thursday's article "Broome’s Flying Boat Wrecks" Here.
Read Friday's article "Local Hero Charlie D’Antoine" Here.
Read Yesterday's article "The Diamond Dakota" Here.
Corporal Andrew Ireland BEM
Corporal Ireland pictured in a RAAF Short Empire Flying Boat
Available at: https://broomemuseum.org.au/broome-during-world-war-ii/courageous-rescue/
“…holes appeared in the hull, the sun came steaming through these holes and it was rather like being in a colander…the second aircraft…chopped our starboard wing off completely.”
Corporal Andrew Benvie Ireland and six other crew members were aboard Empire flying boat A.18-10 at 9am on March 3rd 1942, moored a mile from shore.[i] They were refuelling before a flight to Timor to rescue stranded soldiers.[ii]
The sirens sounded from the mainland as Japanese Zeros began to strafe the vessels in Roebuck Bay. Bullets pierced the flying boat’s hull and set fuel tanks alight. The crew jumped overboard, abandoning the sinking plane, but Corporal Ireland did not follow suit. Instead, he made his way through the smouldering flight d eck to the rubber dinghy. He was wounded and suffered severe scorching to his chest and face as he desperately tried to inflate the dinghy.
As the Japanese launched their third attack, the 1,500 gallon petrol tank exploded, launching Corporal Ireland from the plane and into the shark-infested bay. Miraculously, he retained his grip on the dinghy, and managed to inflate it whilst treading water. He dragged himself inside, and paddled frantically to pick up his crew. He also rescued four Dutchmen and an injured Dutchwoman, all of whom would have almost certainly drowned or been taken by sharks “but for Ireland’s courage and presence of mind.”[iii] His actions earned him a British Empire Medal.
The official recommendation for his award reads: “For gallant conduct on hazardous work at Broome.” Ireland served in the RAAF across multiple units including No. 33 and No. 41 Squadrons until he was discharged on March 28th, 1946.
Listen to Corporal Ireland’s personal reflections of his conduct during the attack on Broome, complied by the Broome History Society and Museum:
[i] Extract from Service Record.
[ii] Broome Historical Society & Museum, 2019 Courageous Rescue, [online] Broome Historical Society & Museum, Available at: <https://broomemuseum.org.au/broome-during-world-war-ii/local-hero/>.
[iii] Extract from Service Record.