Paul Budde's History Archives

The Drama of Broome

A disastrous and emotional event that left deep scars in both the Netherlands and Australia was the bombing of Broome.

Darwin was bombed by the Japanese on February 19th   they also destroyed several ships of KNIL Marine fleet.  Broome had now become the major port in northern Australia.

It had an airstrip as well as a suitable bay (Roebuck) that could be used by the flying boats.

After the Fall of Singapore, the Japanese moved on to NEI and Dutch, Australian and American aircrafts started to shuttle thousands of refugees from Tjilatjap, Java to Broome (as many as 8,000 arrived in 57 flying boats and ships according to a report from the Australian Airforce). 

Bombed aircraft in Roebuck Bay (Photo WA Museum)

Transporting people off the flying boats – moored in the bay – to ‘terra firma’ could take some time and accommodation in Broome was overstretched, so many had to stay on board of the planes for several hours as well as overnight for those arriving late in the day.

Remarkably, none of those who stayed in the planes, nor those on land were alarmed when on March 2nd a Japanese reconnaissance aircraft circled around Broome. The next day Japanese Zero bombers arrived and within 15 minutes bombed 24 aircrafts that were either laying in the Roebuck bay or which were parked on the aerodrome, between 35 and 40 Dutch people were killed in the raid and a similar number badly injured.

Furthermore, the Japanese shot down an American Liberator plane on its way to Broom. Its crew and refugees added another 32 casualties to the Broome disaster. In 1950 all the victims were interred at the Perth War Cemetery at Karrakatta, mostly in unnamed graves.

On 3 March 1942, PK-AFV, a Douglas DC-3-194 airliner operated by KNILM, was shot down over Western Australia by a fighter plane from the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service. It crash-landed on a beach at Carnot Bay, resulting in the deaths of four passengers and the loss of diamonds. These belonged to a Bandung firm named NV de Concurrent – worth an estimated £150,000–300,000 (the equivalent of A$9.5–19 million in 2010). It is widely believed that the diamonds were stolen following the crash, although no-one has ever been convicted of a crime in relation to their disappearance.

The 17 ships and planes ready to fly out of Tjilatap Harbour when the Japanese arrived were bombed and many of the refugees, still left in NEI, lost their lives that day. The rest of the ships were scuttled by the Dutch to prevent them from falling into the hands of the invaders.

After this disastrous event in Broome, the flying boat base was moved to Lake Boga in Victoria, where the damaged flying boats were repaired. It was here that in 1948 Fred Wong – assisting the independence movement of Indonesia – drowned under suspicious circumstances when trying to fly a Catalina to Indonesia with food and medicine (see below).