Attack on Broome
|Attack on Broome|
|Part of World War II, Pacific War|
Taken in May 1941, several months before the attack on Broome, personnel from a Royal Netherlands Navy Air Service Dornier Do 24 are transported by launch in Darwin Harbour.
|Commanders and leaders|
|Clifford Gibson||Zenjiro Miyano|
|22 aircraft||10 aircraft|
|Casualties and losses|
88 killed (official toll)|
22 aircraft destroyed
1 killed (official toll)|
2 aircraft destroyed
Although Broome was a small pearling port at the time, it was also a refuelling point for aircraft, on the route between the Netherlands East Indies and major Australian cities. As a result, Broome was on a line of flight for Dutch and other refugees, following the Japanese invasion of Java, and had become a significant Allied military base. During a two-week period in February–March 1942, more than a thousand refugees from the Dutch East Indies—many of them in flying boats, which often served as airliners at the time—passed through Broome.
The number of refugees has previously been given as 8,000, but new research by Dr Tom Lewis contends that this figure is massively overstated. The figure was first quoted in the relevant Australian Official War History and has been reproduced in many publications since. The actual number of aerial evacuees passing through Broome at this time is estimated to have been only 1,350. Most of these were military personnel. There were approximately 250 Dutch civilian refugees, most of whom were family members of Dutch aircrews.
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Lt Zenjiro Miyano—the commander of Dai 3 Kōkūtai (3rd Air Group) of the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service—led nine Mitsubishi A6M2 Zero fighters and a Mitsubishi C5M2 reconnaissance plane from their base at Kupang, Timor in the attack, on the morning of 3 March.
From about 09:20, the Zeros made strafing attacks on the flying boat anchorage at Roebuck Bay and the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) base at Broome Airfield. No bombs were dropped, although some were reported, perhaps a result of witnesses seeing the Zero pilots releasing their drop tanks. The raid lasted an hour.
The Japanese fighters destroyed at least 22 Allied aircraft. These included an airborne United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) B-24A Liberator, full of wounded personnel—nearly 20 died when it crashed in the sea, about 16 km (8.6 nmi; 9.9 mi) off Broome. The Allies also lost 15 flying boats at anchorage; many Dutch refugees were on board and the exact number and identities of all those killed is unknown but the ages and names of some were recorded when they were moved from Broome to the Perth War Cemetery at Karrakatta in 1950 (the known casualties include 9 children, the youngest being just 1). At the airfield, the Japanese fighters destroyed two B-17E Flying Fortresses and a B-24 belonging to the USAAF, two Lockheed Hudsons belonging to the RAAF and a Lockheed Lodestar belonging to the Royal Netherlands East Indies Air Force (ML-KNIL).
The aircraft destroyed included: eight PBY Catalinas operated by the Royal Australian Air Force, the Royal Netherlands Navy Air Service (MLD), United States Navy and the Royal Air Force; two Short Empires belonging to the RAAF and QANTAS, and five Dornier Do 24s belonging to the MLD.
A KLM Douglas DC-3 airliner—PK-AFV (carrying refugees from Bandung)—was also shot down, 80 km (50 mi) north of Broome, with the loss of four lives and diamonds worth £150,000 – 300,000 (now approximately A$20–40 million).
There were no Allied fighter planes based in Broome at the time. The Zeroes encountered some light arms fire from the ground. One Zero pilot—Warrant Officer Osamu Kudō—was killed by ground fire from a Dutch ML-KNIL pilot, First Lieutenant Gus Winckel, using a 7.9mm machine gun he had removed from his Lodestar. Winckel balanced the weapon on his shoulder and sustained burns to his left forearm when it touched the barrel of the gun after firing. Another Zero ran out of fuel and ditched while returning to his base, although the pilot survived.
In 2010, new research argued instead that Kudo's Zero was shot down by the tail guns in the B-24A Arabian Knight, which itself was downed by Kudo's attack with the loss of 19 of the 20 American military personnel on board.
Following the attack, an RAAF officer—Pilot Officer Frank Russell, who had been on one of the flying boats during the raid—wrote of
... a scene of ghastly devastation! Our flying boats all over the place were sending up huge clouds of black smoke. Burning petrol in sinister patches floated all over the sea... All around us there fell a ceaseless stream of tracer bullets. Several of the Dutch Dorniers had been full of women and kids, waiting to take off to ... safety.
Charlie D'Antoine—an Aboriginal flying boat refueller—helped two passengers from the planes to reach the shore, swimming through burning fuel and wreckage. D'Antoine later received a bravery award from the Dutch government and was invited to attend a royal reception in the Netherlands.
At least one U.S. serviceman—Sgt. Melvin Donoho—managed to swim about 16 km (9.9 mi) from the crashed B-24 to shore, a journey which took him more than 36 hours. Some accounts say that a Sgt. Willard J. Beatty also made it ashore but died soon afterwards; other sources suggest that this was a false report, emanating from one newspaper article.
Japanese aircraft later made several smaller attacks on the Broome area. On 20 March, Mitsubishi G4M2 "Betty" medium bombers made a high-altitude attack on the airfield. One civilian was killed and there was some crater damage. The last attack was in August 1943.
The Australian journalist, broadcaster and author Coralie Clarke Rees (1908–1972) published a less prosaic, and highly personal account of the Broome air raid in her 1946 elegy to her dead airman brother, Silent His Wings:
You in a tiny hand-picked bunch of sappers
chosen to gelignite Broome in the teeth
of the down-swooping Jap, saw stately Dutch flying-boats,
lovely Dutch women, riddled with bullets, blasted, floating,
American Liberators and quaking Malays spine-shattered
by the hail of yellow bombs. You smelt and tasted death
and the tang of it never left your tongue.
- Lewis & Ingman (2010)
- Gillison, Douglas. Royal Australian Air Force 1939–1942, Australia in the War of 1939–1945, Series Three Air, Volume I. Australian War Memorial: Canberra, 1962, pp. 463–468
- "WWII Broome air raid". Australian Geographic. Retrieved 9 March 2015.
- PacificWrecks.com. "Pacific Wrecks". Retrieved 27 July 2017.
- ABC-TV, "Broome Hero" (Message Stick, 5 February 2006), accessed 18 April 2007.
- Western Australian Museum (no date), "The B24 Liberator crash", accessed 18 April 2007.
- pacificwrecks.com, 1997–2007, "Broome" & Australian War Museum, 2006, "The Japanese raid on Broome", accessed 18 April 2007
- Veterans Review Board (no date), "Darwin" Archived 28 August 2006 at the Wayback Machine, accessed 18 April 2007
- Reece, Lesley, Coralie Clarke Rees, Australian Dictionary of Biography Online, accessed 24 August 2016
- Silent His Wings, Internet Archive Open Library, accessed 8 September 2013.
- Lewis, Dr Tom & Ingman, Peter. (2010). Zero Hour in Broome. Avonmore Books: Adelaide. ISBN 9780957735156.
- Prime, Mervyn W. (1992). Broome's One Day War: The Story of the Japanese Raid on Broome, 3 March 1942, Broome: Shire of Broome (for Broome Historical Society). OCLC 221312377
- Prime, Mervyn W. (n.d.). WA's Pearl Harbour – The Japanese Raid on Broome, Bull Creek, WA (Royal Australian Air Force Association Aviation Museum). OCLC 219836510
- Heritage nomination of the site and wreckage by the Western Australian Maritime Museum
- Air raids – Broome
- Australian War Memorial, "Broome, 3 March 1942"
- Peter Dunn, 2000, ozatwar.com, "Crash of a Japanese Fighter Aircraft, Destruction of Fifteen Flying Boats, Two B-17 Flying Fortresses, Two B-24 Liberators, Two Lockheed Hudsons, Two DC-3s and a Lockheed Lodestar on 3 March 1942 During a Japanese Air Raid On Broome"
- WA Museum website on its Broome Aircraft project