HMAS INVERELL
IN AUSTRALIAN WATERS
DURING WWII

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Bathurst Class Corvette HMAS Inverell (J233) was launched on 2 May 1942 and was commissioned into the Royal Australian Navy on 17 September 1942. HMAS Inverell relocated to Darwin at the end of December 1942 to perform escort duty between Darwin and Thursday Island. HMAS Inverell arrived at Williamstown Naval Dockyard on 11 November 1943 for a refit and returned to escort duties out of Darwin about a month later.

HMAS Inverell rescued the survivors of a USAAF B-24 Liberator from Croker Island in February 1944. See story below.

On 11 June 1944 their escort Beaufort aircraft crashed about 6 miles south east of the convoy. HMAS joined the search for survivors. See story below.

HMAS Inverell sailed for Fremantle on 22 September 1944 where its main role was to carryout training exercises with US Navy and Royal Navy submarines. Convoy escort and patrolling was their secondary role while based at Fremantle.

HMAS Inverell sailed for Darwin on 4 May 1945 where it performed minesweeping duties. HMAS Inverell, HMAS Stawell and HMAS River Snake (SRD vessel) headed for Morotai in about July 1945.

 

Exercises with "Z" Special Unit at Broken Bay

Bathurst Class Corvette HMAS Inverell (J233) departed Sydney at 1637L hours on Sunday 1 November 1942, and arrived in Broken Bay at 1915L hours. From 1946L hours on 3 November 1942 to 1245L hours on 4 November 1942 was spent at sea to allow all personnel to keep night sea watches. During this time a dummy A/S attack was carried out and a depth charge was dropped from the rails.

HMAS Inverell co-operated with Naval Commando personnel ("Z" Special Unit") from Camp "Z" at Broken Bay in an attack and repelling of boarders exercise. HMAS Inverell departed Broken Bay at 0600L hours on Friday 6 November 1942 and arrived in Sydney at 0855L hours.

 

Rescuing Survivors of a USAAF B-24 Liberator Crash

HMAS Inverell received a Signal from Naval Officer in Charge Darwin (NOIC Darwin) on 5 February 1944 to proceed to Croker Island and effect the rescue of survivors from a USAAF Liberator which had crashed there. The B-24 Liberator was reported to have crashed close to Cape Croker on Croker Island.

HMAS Inverell was in a position 20 miles north of Croker Island by 0715KL hours on 6 February 1944 and observed a red flare fired from the island. A bearing was taken on the location of the red flare.

The presence of Britomart Shoal off Croker Island led to a cautious approach to the island. HMAS Inverell anchored mile off Cape Croker at 0900 hours. Several persons could be seen standing near the crashed aircraft.

A whaler containing a First Lieutenant, a Midshipman, a Signalman, S.B.A and six seamen was sent ashore. Some difficulty was encountered finding an opening to access the shore and they were then caught in a rainstorm, which caused them to heave to for about 30 minutes.

They eventually headed for shore and were forced to wade about 200 feet to shore and then a walk of about one mile to the crashed aircraft.

They found six men at the crash site, two of whom were injured. The pilot was seriously injured. There were two other crew members, one who was about mile inland from the crash site and another south of Cape Croker who had seen HMAS Inverell anchored offshore and had walked to the landing place. A Beaufort bomber had aided in locating these men by dropping flares to mark their positions.

Five crew members had stayed with the aircraft and made a forced landing whilst the rest of the crew had parachuted to Croker Island. Two were injured and three perished in a fire in the aircraft.

The crew member who was mile inland was cutoff from the rest of the party by a swamp. Fortunately six natives from the Mission Station located 12 miles to the south, arrived and led the man across the swamp to the rest of the party. The Natives made weird sounds, clapped their hands and beat the water with sticks to frighten off any crocodiles.

By 1200 hours all survivors had been accounted for and it was established by the party from HMAS Inverell that three crew members had been incinerated when the aircraft caught fire.

The badly injured pilot was carried to the location of the Whaler in a Neil Robertson stretcher. The co-pilot had to be half carried with the assistance of the natives.

A motor boat from HMAS Inverell was sent to the Whaler once it was clear of the foul ground. The Whaler was eventually clear by 1245 hours and hoisted back on the ship by 1315 hours. HMAS Inverell raised anchor and was underway at 13 knots at 1330 hours. A message was sent to NOIC Darwin for a Medical Officer to meet them at Abbot Shoal as there was concern that the pilot may die from his serious injuries. HMAML 815 met HMAS Inverell about 4 miles west of Abbot Shoal with a Medical Officer on board at 2220 hours that night. Unfortunately the pilot, 1st Lieutenant Arthur A. Bates had passed away at 2100 hours. HMAS Inverell and ML 815 remained anchored overnight until daylight and then proceeded to Darwin arriving at 1345 hours the same day.

The survivors who were rescued by HMAS Inverell were as follows:-

1st Lt. Arthur A Bates, pilot, 25 yrs, seriously injured and died
2nd Lt. John T. Pegula, Co-pilot, 26 yrs, injured
2nd Lt. Donald L. Fuller, Navigator, 25 yrs
2nd Lt. Loren W. Blowers, Bombardier, 28 yrs
Sgt. Gordie Whittington, Engineer, 23 yrs
Sgt. Albert Hoffman, Asst. Engineer, 25 yrs
Sgt. Vincent Scalese, Gunner, 20 yrs
Sgt. Peter C. Ceplice, Radio Operator, 29 yrs

The three crew members killed in the crash were as follows:-

Sgt. Nicholas Soletz, Gunner
Sgt. Daniel A. Miller, Gunner
Pvt. Robert Dufficy, Gunner

During the passage to Darwin from Abbot Shoal, the survivors related the story of their crash. Whilst returned from an operation to the north, their two outboard engines failed. The other two engines eventually became overheated and they were running low on fuel.

They eventually sighted land and the pilot announced to the crew that he was going to make a forced landing. They arrived over Cape Croker at 6,000 feet and the pilot ordered the crew to bail out. Only six men parachuted from the stricken aircraft. The last man out said the other three were immediately behind him ready to jump. The pilot and co-pilot stayed on board to force land the aircraft.

Of the six men who parachuted, one landed in the sea and paddled ashore in his life jacket. Another man landed near the swamp, another on the coast south of Cape Croker, and the other three landed close together near the north coast.

The B-24 then crash landed a few hundred feet from the three men who had just landed together. The three men said the landing was a 'brilliant feat' and that the aircraft was undamaged until a few seconds before it was due to stop when it tilted into a small ditch. The nose stoved in and the pilot and co-pilot were thrown forward violently. The three men rushed in and rescued the pilot and co-pilot and were about to entre the aircraft again to rescues the other three crew members when the aircraft burst into flames incinerating the three men.

The survivors spent a miserable night in heavy rain. They managed to rig a rough shelter with their parachutes.

Crash of a their escort aircraft - Beaufort A9-220

HMAS Inverell departed Darwin at 0400 hours on 11 June 1944 bound for Thursday Island escorting Convoy DT 62 (ships "Suva" and "Empire Silver"). After passing Cape Wessel on 13 June 1944, the weather deteriorated and a strong SE wind (Force 5) sprung up accompanied by a short, rough sea.

At 1330 hours that same day, Beaufort A9-220 that was escorting crashed into the sea half an hour after arriving to commence that A/S diagram. It crashed approximately six miles south east of the convoy.

A column of water was observed from HMAS Inverell at 1330 hours on the bearing Green 45 accompanied by an orange flash and a dull thud resembling a depth charge explosion. The aircraft had not been observed diving into the sea, but it was immediately presumed that what they had observed was as a result of the Beaufort diving into the sea. Those on board "Suva" had also made a similar sighting. Radar contact of the aircraft was also lost on a south east bearing at that same time.

Details of the incident were reported by HMAS Inverell to the NOIC Darwin and NOIC Thursday Island. RAAF Officers at Thursday Island were of the opinion that a probable reason for the mishap was failure of fuel supply during the change over from one fuel tank to another. It was claimed that the aircraft would have being doing this transfer about 2 hours out from its base which roughly corresponded with the time of the crash.

HMAS Inverell altered course and increased speed to 14 knots to close position on the position where the incident had occurred. When they arrived on scene about 20 minutes later all they found was a large patch of oil, a large number of small pieces of wood, two life-jackets and a yellow object almost completely submerged which was thought to be the remains of a rubber dinghy. A considerable number of dead fish were observed scattered over a wide area. There were no signs of any survivors or of any wearing apparel, apart from the two life-jackets mentioned earlier.

A search for possible parachutists was conducted down wind for a distance of about 3 miles without success. The Convoy was overhauled and station resumed.

Lt A. Chapman, the Commanding Officer of HMAS Inverell reviewed the details available and reported as follows:-

A review of the details available and as indicated above suggests:-

  • that the accident occurred very quickly, giving the pilot little or no time in which to attempt a belly landing or for the crew to bale out
  • that on striking the water or shortly after doing so, a severe explosion took place, expediting the sinking of the aircraft and almost certainly killing the crew outright. Judging by the type of wreckage, the dead fish and the appearance of the water disturbance, it is my opinion that a depth charge exploded.

The facts of the incident were signaled to NOIC Townsville, NOIC Thursday island and repeated to NOIC Darwin by W/T and also to the relief Beaufort, which arrived over the Convoy at 1500 hours.

REFERENCE BOOKS

AWM78 Reports of Proceedings, HMA Ships and Establishments - HMAS Inverell November 1942 - May 1946

 

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

I'd like to thank Bob Alford and Bob Livingstone for their assistance with this web page.

 

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 Peter Dunn 2015

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This page first produced 15 May 2015

This page last updated 15 May 2015