World War II

Wartime was a difficult period for Western Australia's airlines - not only due to enemy action, but also their aircraft being "called up" for national service. There was also a wide range of military activity.


MacRobertson Miller Aviation

Napier Downs 1942MMA's Lockheed Vega was one of the "conscripts", in November 1942, along with the DH-86s. However, the airline managed to retain its Lockheed Electras (VH-ABV and VH-ABW) as essential transport for the north-west of W.A.. Two were added to its initial pair, giving it a fleet of four by the war's end.

The Electras featured in several wartime incidents. In one, Jimmy Woods flew an M.M.A. Electra out of Darwin just prior to the Japanese raid on March 3, 1942, arriving in Broome shortly after another raid there. He then made a number of trips carrying (largely Dutch) refugees from Broome to Port Hedland, even after minor propellor damage encountered while taxying (which he rectified using a hacksaw!). For his heroic efforts, he was awarded a Dutch knighthood.

In another incident, on January 16, 1942, Electra VH-ABV piloted by Jim Branch made a forced landing due to engine failure, at Napier Downs station, in the Kimberleys. It was later recovered by Jimmy Woods. This involved repairing the engine, constructing a temporary airstrip on suitable ground nearby, then towing the aircraft (using a mule team) there for takeoff.

Airlines of W.A.

Airlines' Stinson was destroyed by enemy action at Broome in March 1942, and its Dragon was impressed into military service (in return for which a rather smaller Dragonfly was provided). But the insurance on the Stinson paid for a replacement Monospar ST-25, and two Dragon Rapides were acquired in 1944.

Qantas - The "Double Sunrise" Flights

Qantas Catalina KoggalaOver the Indian Ocean, during World War II, Melville Water was one end of a crucial air link between Australia and Sri Lanka (then Ceylon), and so Europe. Carrying additional fuel tanks and stripped of unnecessary weight, Catalinas operated by Qantas flew the "Double Sunrise" route from Perth to Colombo. Flights commenced on 29th June, 1943, and continued for two years (performed using Liberator transports, later in the war).

The name arose from the long duration of the flight, the 5650 km (3600 nm) route taking up to 32 hours to complete. Night-time operation was preferred, to help avoid Japanese aircraft, so the flight occupied two nights (and so the two sunrises) and one day.

Military Aviation


Western Australian operations for the RAAF included both training and operational bases. Pearce (opened in 1938) was the location of No.5 Initial Training School, operating Ansons and Hawker Demons. Cunderdin was initially the base of No.9 Elementary Flying Training School, flying Tiger Moths, graduates progessing to No.4 Service Flying Training School, which commenced at Geraldton in 1941 using Ansons.

The Cunderdin school operated until 1944, after which it was used by 25 Squadron, who flew B-24 Liberators on bombing raids in the Netherlands East Indies, staging through airfields in the north-west. Cunderdin was also used in 1942 as a base by two USAAF Liberators, which conducted coastal defence patrols on the west coast, and some P-40 Kittyhawk fighters, which provided air defence for the city of Perth.

Operational bases included Guildford Aerodrome (now Perth Airport), Maylands, Potshot (Exmouth), Corunna Downs (mainly a staging post), Truscott (near Derby), Broome.

Pearce was the home of 14 Squadron, which conducted maritime patrols ovet the Indian Ocean, initially using Ansons, but changing to Lockheed Hudsons in 1940, then Bristol Beauforts in 1942. During its entire existence, it encountered no enemy shipping in its patrol region. Also based at Pearce was 35 Squadron, a transport unit that flew a wide mix of types, including the Fox Moth, Dragon, Moth Minor, Fairey Battle, Tiger Moth, Anson, Dragon Rapide, Northrop Delta and C-47 Dakota. 25 Squadron operated from Pearce, initially using Hawker Demons for pilot training. In 1943 it was equipped with Vultee Vengeance dive bombers.


Perth was never the location of a major U.S. airfield, although Middle Swan (Caversham) Airfield was constructed mainly for use by the Royal Navy and U.S. Navy. There were two Liberators briefly operated from Cunderdin in maritime patrol work, and much through-traffic of aircraft headed for the north-west.

However, Melville Water was used extensively for flying boat operations, the U.S. Navy's Patrol Wing 10 being based on Matilda Bay from 7th March 1942. It came to Perth from bases in the Philippines and Indonesia, having lost aircraft in the bombing raids on both Darwin (19th February) and Broome (3rd March). Replacements appear to have arrived quickly, and there were reportedly over 60 Catalinas and 1200 personnel in the Wing. The aircraft were used mainly for maritime reconnaissance, convoy escort, and search and rescue duties, with some (long range) bombing raids. Later renamed as Fleet Air Wing 10, their Catalinas operated from Perth until 1 September 1944, when they were relocated to the Admiralty Islands, closer to the advancing allied front.


The Ed Coates Collection

Account of the Napier Downs Electra recovery

Account of the US Navy World War II Catalina base at Crawley

Article on the "Double Sunrise" Catalinas in Sri Lanka Sunday times