RAAF BOWEN FLYING BOAT BASE
BOWEN, NORTH QUEENSLAND
IN AUSTRALIA DURING WWII

 

Catalinas, Martin Mariners, Seagulls and other Flying Boats were reconditioned and serviced at the RAAF Bowen Flying Boat Base during WWII by No. 1 Flying Boat Maintenance Unit RAAF (1 FBMU), which was established at  Bowen on 10 October 1943. The Flying Boat Base was located on Quay Street between Sinclair Street and Gregory Street, Bowen. Thomas Street was at the western end of the Base. See Plan below.

The Catalinas of 11 Squadron RAAF and 20 Squadron RAAF had relocated from Port Moresby to Bowen in May 1942 before the establishment of the Flying Boat Base. The Denison Hotel in Herbert Street was requisitioned by the military and became Squadron Headquarters and Officer's Quarters. Many private homes were also requisitioned to provide accommodation for Squadron members. The following are some of the houses, shops and hotels requisitioned for use by the personnel based at the Bowen Flying Boat Base:-

 


NAA Plan Series No. J2780, Control Symbol ST1087, Barcode 1724234

Bowen Flying Boat Base

 


NAA Plan Series No. J2780, Control Symbol ST1087, Barcode 1724234

Closeup of the above plan, note the gun positions at either end of the Base

 

Aircraft from the following RAAF squadrons were serviced at the Bowen Flying Boat Base:-

Various Construction Works carried out at the Base prior to May 1944 included the following for a total cost of £89,163:-

The Wooden Slipway was 1,400 feet long with decking laid transversely with 4 inch spacing between deck planks. After 12 months it was found that the timber was badly infested with marine borers. The 4 inch spacing was also causing major vibration problems as aircraft were being dragged across the 4 inch spacing. A decision was made to replace it with a 1,000 foot concrete slipway which meant aircraft could no longer be slipped at low tides.

43 Squadron RAAF flying Catalinas was formed at the Bowen Flying Boat Base in May 1943. 43 Squadron relocated to Karumba Flying Boat Base in August 1943.

The War Cabinet approved additional Buildings and Work Services to the value of £53,000 for the Maintenance Unit at RAAF Flying Boat Base Bowen on 1 May 1944. Works included the following:-

The Civil Construction Corps commenced laying the enlarged concrete aprons at Bowen on 31 July 1944. Extensive works and buildings in the slipway area were completed in August 1944. Unit Headquarters for 1 FBMU moved from Herbert Street to the new Administration building at the base in August 1944.

 

Bowen Flying Boat Base during WWII

 

In September 1945 there were 350 RAAF and WAAAF personnel still based there. They used the Hotel Denison in Herbert Street for the Barracks for some of the personnel.

In October 1946, the Flying Boat Base was still being manned by a skeleton staff who lived in the town. There were six squatters who had been living in some of the RAAF huts at the Flying Boat Base for about 6 months. The Bowen City Council had been approached to submit an offer to buy the huts occupied by the squatters but this had been refused because the huts were badly deteriorated and were only fit for salvage. Other buildings at the base were being dismantled and removed in pieces by vandals.

One of the two main hangars beside the slipway, "Building No. 7", was vacated by the RAAF on 8 January 1947 and was then occupied by the Department of Civil Aviation.

In early July 1948, Catalina A24-356, owned by Mr. Richard Patrick "Pat" Carr of Brisbane was flown from Rathmines to the former Flying Boat Base at Bowen for repairs and conversion to civilian use. A report in the Bowen Independent stated that the Catalina had been grounded pending construction of beaching gear. The article indicates that Mr. Carr intended to use the Catalina for air freight work throughout the southwest Pacific. It would seem that Mr. Carr was always suffering financial problems. Just over 4 years later, the Catalina lay abandoned at the Flying Boat Base. See photo below.

 


Photo:- via Bruce Kirkwood

A forlorn looking Catalina A24-356, owned by Mr. Pat Carr, lays
abandoned at the former WWII Bowen Catalina Flying Boat Base

 

Mr. "Pat" Carr appeared before Mr. J. P. O'Callaghan, the Registrar of Bankruptcy in the Townsville Bankruptcy Court, on about 27 October 1952. Mr. Carr stated that he had an equity in a Catalina Flying Boat at Bowen worth about £100. Amongst his many debts was 16 Pounds 8 Shillings owed to the Department of Civil Aviation for removal of gear from the Catalina aircraft at Bowen. Carr said he first employed a pilot called Don Whisker to fly the Catalina, to pick up disposals that were “kicking around” the back country.

Carr said , said that he saw a good opening in New Guinea in October 1946 and bought the Catalina from the Disposals Commission in Sydney for £1,000. He said in Court that he had not paid any of the £1,000, but the Queensland Finance Co., had paid £1,000 into his account. The plane was purchased under his name and, according to the Department of Civil Aviation specifications, was not air worthy. After further questioning, Carr said the Catalina had been flown from Rathmines to Brisbane, where it lay on the Brisbane River for six weeks. Whilst waiting for an export permit to enable him to sell it to the Netherlands East Indies Government for £5,000 said Carr, the aircraft had been flown back to Sydney and slipped for 18 months. Dr. Wooster from the Fortuna Syndicate, had given about 300 Pounds towards the cost of this.

Further questioning revealed that the Catalina had been flow to Bowen, where Carr said he had a syndicate interested, but this deal fell through. He had paid over £2,000 in repairs, and general maintenance on the aircraft. Asked about other offers for the plane since it had been in Bowen, Carr said the only offers had been for scrap, and one for the electrical equipment. A survey of the aircraft, showed it would cost between £2,500 and £3,000 to get a Department of Civil Aviation certificate of airworthiness.

The ex WWII Flying Boat Base was used by Qantas for two and a half years until 8 February 1949 for international flights to England. The first flight left Rose Bay in Sydney on 19 May 1946 flying on to Bowen then Darwin then Singapore. The last Qantas Hythe Flying Boat took off from the Bowen Flying Boat Base on the morning of 8 February 1949 head for Singapore on the first leg of its journey to England. The Qantas operation there was due to be closed by the end of February 1949. The Department of Civil Aviation was employing up to 17 men at the base at that time.

 

REFERENCES

Townsville Daily Bulletin Monday 10 September 1945
Service at Bowen for Flying Boats

Townsville Daily Bulletin Monday 14 October 1946
"Squatters" in Bowen Huts

Units of the Royal Australian Air Force - A Concise History
Volume 7 Maintenance Units

WWII NQ - A Cultural Heritage overview of significant places in teh defence of north Queensland during World War II
by Howard Pearce, Environmental Protection Agency

 

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

I'd like to thank Gordon Birkett, Bruce Kirkwood, and David Legg for their assistance with this web page.

 

Can anyone help me with more information?

 

"Australia @ War" Research Products

I need your help

Copyright

©  Peter Dunn 2015

Disclaimer

Please e-mail me
any information or photographs


"Australia @ War"
8GB USB Memory Stick

This page first produced 26 February 2017

This page last updated 27 February 2017