The Diamond Dakota

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 yesterday's article "Local Hero Charlie D’Antoine" Here.

The Diamond Dakota

Dutch Dakota DC-3 PK-AFV left Bandung in the early hours of March 3rd 1942 carrying some very valuable cargo. Among the twelve passengers and crew was a package containing £300,000 worth of diamonds,[i] the equivalent of over $25 million Australian today, belonging to a Bandung firm named NV de Concurrent.[ii] Expecting a routine refuel in Broome, the ‘Diamond Dakota’ was instead met by a trio of Japanese Zeros, who damaged the plane and injured Captain Ivan Smirnov[iii] in both arms. The Diamond Dakot a was forced into a spiralling dive, landing on a beach at Carnot Bay, 100 kilometres from Broome.[iv] No one was killed in the initial crash, a testament to the skill of Captain Smirnov, but the struggle for survival for the passengers of the Diamond Dakota was only just beginning.

 

A portrait of Ivan Vasilyevich Smirnov. He was a decorated pilot in both the First and Second World Wars and recipient of countless military awards
From Broome Historical Society & Museum

Carnot Bay is still to this day a very isolated area of Western Australia’s top end, and at the time was a good 55 kilometres from the nearest settlement at Beagle Bay.[v] The group was stranded with no food or water supply. They constructed a makeshift water filter from a blow-torch to filter out the salt from sea water.[vi] For four days the stranded passengers did what they could to escape the scorching sun and survive. Flight Leiutenant Dann Handriksz and Flight Engineer N.J. Blaauw did not survive the four days, nor did Maria Van Tuyn and her twelve month old son Johannes,[vii] who had boarded the Diamond Dakota hoping to reunite with their airman husband and father in Broome. They were buried in the sand flats. The survivors were again bombed by a Japanese Zero who had picked up their SOS call, although fortunately no one was harmed.[viii]

 

The modified torch used by the survivors to filter sea water
Donated to Broome Historical Society and Museum by Gus Clinch

On the fourth day, the group was located and supplies of tinned food, medicine, dressings, milk and cigarettes were airdropped. A rescue mission was facilitated from Beagle Bay Mission, lead by Warrant Officer Frank ‘Gus’ Clinch, and after five gruelling days the eight survivors were finally rescued by Clinch and his group of Beagle Bay  missionaries and Aboriginal trackers.[ix]

The survivors had been saved, but the Diamond Dakota wreckage remained lodged in the sand on the beach. Captain Smirnov wrote in his book De Toekomst heeft Vleugels (‘The Future Has Wings’) that Flight Engineer Van Romondt had tried to retrieve the package of diamonds from the wreckage, only for it to be swept from his hands by a rouge wave.

Local man and known beachcomber Jack Palmer went to inspect the wreckage a few days later, unaware that she had been transporting such precious freight.[x] By an incredible stroke of luck, he found the box of diamonds barely visible above the sand washed up beside the plane. He and his two mates James Mulgrue and Frank Robinson handed a salt shaker filled to the brim with diamonds to the Army commander in Broome some months after their find. About £20,500 (now equal to over $2.1 million Australian) of diamonds were missing from the initial load.[xi]

The trio were tried in the Supreme Court of Perth on suspicion of stealing the missing diamonds. The case hinged on evidence from Captain Smirnov as to where he had last seen the package. Fortunately for the defendants, Smirnov, as legend has it, told the court with a wry smile that he simply could not remember.[xii] All three were acquitted, and went on to live very comfortably in Broome.[xiii]

The wreckage of the Diamond Dakota has long been swept away, but her legacy remains in the form of a monument erected in the sand on what is now known as Smirnoff Beach. Her demise resulted in some unbelievable stories of bravery , hardship and mystery that remain as captivating now as they did 80 years ago.

 

The Dutch Dakota Air Crash Monument pictured at its unveiling in 2013
From Monuments Australia

Endnotes


[i] Monumentaustralia.org.au, 2020, Dutch Dakota Air Crash | Monument Australia, [online] Available at: <https://monumentaustralia.org.au/themes/conflict/ww2/display/100360-dutch-dakota-air-crash-> [Accessed 30 June 2020].
[ii] The Mail Adelaide, 1943, Three Men on W.A. Diamond Charges, p.12.
[iii] Sometimes spelt ‘Smirnoff’ in Australian records.
[iv] Broome Historical Society & Museum, 2019 Diamond Plane, [online] Broome Historical Society & Museum, Available at: <https://broomemuseum.org.au/broome-during-world-war-ii/diamond-plane/>.
[v] Shaw, I 2014, The Ghosts Of Roebuck Bay, Pan Macmillan, Sydney.
[vi] Broome Historical Society & Museum, 2019 Diamond Plane, [online] Broome Historical Society & Museum, Available at: <https://broomemuseum.org.au/broome-during-world-war-ii/diamond-plane/>.
[vii] Monumentaustralia.org.au, 2020, Dutch Dakota Air Crash | Monument Australia, [online] Available at: <https://monumentaustralia.org.au/themes/conflict/ww2/display/100360-dutch-dakota-air-crash-> [Accessed 30 June 2020].
[viii] Ibid.
[ix] Ibid.
[x] Broome Historical Society & Museum, 2019 Diamond Plane, [online] Broome Historical Society & Museum, Available at: <https://broomemuseum.org.au/broome-during-world-war-ii/local-hero/>.
[xi] Northern Times, 1943, Alleged Theft - Diamonds Worth £20,447 - Three Men Arrested At Broome, p.2.
[xii] Monumentaustralia.org.au, 2020, Dutch Dakota Air Crash | Monument Australia, [online] Available at: <https://monumentaustralia.org.au/themes/conflict/ww2/display/100360-dutch-dakota-air-crash-> [Accessed 30 June 2020].
[xiii] Broome Historical Society & Museum, 2019 Diamond Plane, [online] Broome Historical Society & Museum, Available at: <https://broomemuseum.org.au/broome-during-world-war-ii/diamond-plane/>.