C-47 DAKOTA SHOT DOWN BY JAPANESE AIRCRAFT
AFTER JAPANESE BOMBING RAID
ON BROOME HARBOUR
£300,000 WORTH OF DIAMONDS MISSING
ON 3 MARCH 1942

 

On 3 March 1942, Dutch Dakota DC-3 PK-AFV "Pelikaan" of the KNILM (Netherlands East Indies KLM) left Bandung in Java headed for Australia with a plane load of evacuees and a box of diamonds worth approximately £300,000. They managed to escape Java just 3 days before the Japanese took the Bandung area.

At about 1:00 am, while the Dakota's engines were being warmed up, the Captain of the Dakota, Ivan "Turc" Smirnoff was handed a sealed cigar-box sized container by Mr. Wisse, the manager of Andir airfield at Bandung. The box was wrapped in brown paper and sealed in many places. Smirnoff was not aware of the contents of the box but was told "Take good care of this, it is quite valuable". He was told that an Australian Bank would take delivery of the box on arrival in Australia.

Smirnoff threw the box into the Dakota's First Aid box, taxied the Dakota out to the runway and took off at about 1:15 am local time.

Ivan Smirnoff had flown many of these evacuation flights to Australia in early 1942. He was evacuating KNILM office staff, ground personnel, some civilians and service personnel. His co-pilot for this flight was Johan "Neef" Hoffman and his radio operator was John "Jo" Muller. Amongst his passengers were five NEI-AF pilots and four civilians, one of which was an 18 month old baby.

The wife of one of the Dutch pilots, Maria van Tuyn, sat in the only seat left in the rear of the Dakota, which had been stripped bare to save weight. All the other passengers were relegated to the uncomfortable wooden floor.

As they approached Broome just after sunrise, the Dakota's radio officer received a short reply from Broome airfield as follows:-

"Airstrip is okay for the time being"

This message puzzled the crew of the Dakota. By now they had met up with the Australian coastline above Broome. As they followed the beaches towards Broome, they suddenly observed large black clouds of smoke when they were still about 80 kilometres north of Broome.

They had unfortunately arrived at Broome just after a Japanese raid by nine Japanese Mitsubishi A6M2 Zero fighter aircraft and a single Mitsubishi C5M2 command reconnaissance and navigational aircraft of the 3rd Ku, IJNAF. Three of the Zeros had stayed at a higher altitude during the raid to act as "top cover" for the other Zeros. As these "top cover" Zeros followed the coastline back towards Timor, they encountered the lazy Dutch Dakota. The Zeros first attacked the Dakota from the port side. Captain Smirnoff was wounded several times in his arms and hip. Smirnoff managed to put the Dakota into a steep spiral dive with the Zeros in pursuit.

The pilots of the "top cover" Zeros were Lieutenant Zenziro Miyano, Sergeant Takashi Kurano and Private Zempei Matsumoto. Miyano was the leader of the Japanese raiding party on Broome. He later went on to claim 16 planes shot down before he was killed in action at Guadalcanal on 16 June 1943.

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Captain Ivan Smirnoff

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Lieutenant Zenziro Miyano

Lt. Zenjiro Miyano was considered to be one of the best leaders ever produced by the IJNAF. He was the first IJNAF pilot to adopt the 'fighter four' (or 'finger four' as the USAF calls it) formation. He was killed in action on 16 June 1943, and at the time of his death, was credited with 16 victories.The Naval All Units Proclamation No. 72, issued in conjunction with a posthumous double promotion to the rank of Commander, stated that Lt. Miyano's unit had destroyed 228 aircraft in the air and damaged 76.

Mrs. van Tuyn was hit twice in the chest and her baby was hit in the arm. One of the Dutch pilot passengers, Daan Hendriksz, was rendered unconscious after being wounded.

A year after the incident, another passenger, Dutch pilot Lieutenant Pieter Adrian Cramerus, described his ordeal to an American newspaper reporter:-

"At Bandung I was ordered to go to a flying school in Australia by the next plane. This was a DC3 piloted by Commander Smirnoff, a Russian-born naturalised Dutch citizen. Just as we reached Australia, after daybreak, three Japanese fighters flying back from Broome sighted us. Smirnoff put up the greatest show of flying anybody in the world will ever see, coming down in a tight spiral and making a crash-landing on the beach."

"When the port engine suddenly burst into flames the immediate fear was that the fire would spread to the fuel tanks and cause an explosion. Equally hazardous was the possibility of it causing an in-flight structural failure of the wing. Ivan elected for a hasty beach landing below. As the Douglas rolled to a stop, he skilfully swung the nose into the edge of the surf, at the same time effectively dousing the burning engine."

The Zeros started to strafe the beached Dakota. The passengers and crew attempted to escape the Dakota in between strafing runs. A KNILM apprentice mechanic, J.F.M. "Joop" Blaauw, was hit in both knees while trying to escape the aircraft. Smirnoff and those left on board decided to take shelter in the water underneath the crippled Dakota.

After the Zeros disappeared, Muller, the radio operator, retrieved his undamaged radio set and started to send SOS signals to Broome. Another passenger, H. van Romondt, a KNILM official, was asked by Smirnoff to recover the mail, log books and the "valuable" sealed box. As he exited the door of the aircraft, he was hit by a wave and the mystery box fell into the surf. As its importance was not known, the loss of the box was considered a small loss under the circumstances.

They moved up the beach into the sandhills and erected a shade shelter using some parachutes from the Dakota. A bit later that morning a Japanese four-engined Kawanishi flying boat (code named "Mavis") spotted them and started to circle. It dropped two small bombs which fell wide of them.

Records of the Japanese 11th Flying Unit (Naval) based at Ambon in Ceram State describe this encounter as follows:-

"On 4 March three Type 97 aircraft (Mavis) patrolled the Indian Ocean from its northern extremity to the western side of Australia. They departed at 0707 (Tokyo time) from Koepang."

"At 1205 hours Lieutenant Yamauchi, of the second aircraft, flew southwards towards Broome along the sea shore. He discovered an unidentified twin-engine transport plane, which seemed to have made an emergency landing, and its crew waved to him."

After a while they started sending wireless messages and Lieutenant Yamauchi thought they would summon Australian fighters. He dropped two bombs of 60 kg, which missed the target, and the people below ran away. The Mavis continued its patrol."

The Mavis returned later on and dropped two more bombs which failed to explode.

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Shigeyasu Yamauchi
Japanese Naval Pilot

Smirnoff sent two men inland to search for water. They were unsuccessful. Mrs. van Tuyn and Blaauw died that evening. Lieutenant Hendriks died the following morning.

The following day, Smirnoff sent Lt. Pieter Cramerus, Sgt. G.D. "Dick" Brinkman, van Romondt and John "Jo" Muller off in two parties to reach Broome. They were ordered to keep going until they found Broome. A heavy shower that afternoon improved conditions for the victims and improved their water supplies.

An aborigine travelling out from Broome had seen the dogfight and crash and reported it to officials at the Beagle Bay Mission. He had observed the downed aircraft and crew from a distance, too scared to approach them. A rescue party immediately left Beagle Bay Mission led by Warrant Officer Gus Clinch. He was accompanied by Brother Richard Bessenfelder and an aborigine called Joe Bernard.

The rescue party ran into the two groups of men sent out by Smirnoff.

On 6 March 1942 two RAAF Wirraways appeared over the crash site and dropped food, tinned milk and some messages. One of these messages read as follows:-

"Relief party be with you tonight with food and medical supplies. Good luck, MacDonald, RAAF"

Johannes Tuyn, Mrs. van Tuyn's baby, died that night. The rescue party from Beagle Bay Mission reached the survivors at 3 am on 7 March 1942. After medical treatment and food and water was distributed, it was decided to set out for Beagle Bay Mission at dawn. They slowly trekked the 40 kms back to Beagle Bay Mission. Two days later they were taken to Broome by truck.

Some time later, Smirnoff was in Melbourne and received a visit from a police detective and a Commonwealth Bank officer. They demanded to know the whereabouts of the sealed box. Smirnoff told them his story.

In the meantime, Jack Palmer a well known beachcomber in the Broome area sailed his lugger into the Carnot and Beagle Bays area. He spotted the wrecked Dakota. Being a beachcomber he salvaged what he could from the Dakota. It is presumed that he found the mystery box at low tide. Stories have been told that he shared some of his booty of diamonds with friends and some local aborigines.

In mid April 1942 Jack Palmer made a visit to Army headquarters at Broome and asked to enlist in the Army. During an interview with Major Clifford Gibson he unexpectedly poured a salt shaker full of diamonds over the desk. They were confiscated and sent to Perth. Palmer was taken into custody by Lieutenant Laurie O'Neill who led an investigation into the incident. They took Palmer back to the crash site. They found pieces of torn brown paper wrapping and seals that came off the box. While they were there, the team salvaged some parts of the aircraft.

 


Photo via:- Dion Marinis

Lieutenant Laurie O'Neill

 

Seals from the box of diamonds found on the beach

 

Diamonds started to be found in a variety of locations:-

- a Chinese trader had some
- amongst aboriginal communities

- in a matchbox in a train carriage compartment
- in the fork of a tree (found after the war)
- in a fireplace in a house in Broome

Jack Palmer and his two accomplices James Mulgrue and Frank Robinson were committed for trial in the Perth Supreme Court in May 1943. Chief Justice Sir John Northmore presided over the court with a jury of six. All three accused were acquitted after several days. Captain Ivan Smirnoff and Major Gibson were amongst a number of witnesses called from all around Australia.

Only £20,447 worth of diamonds were recovered by the authorities which means that there is in excess of £250,000 still missing today. This is now equivalent to over $10 million dollars worth of diamonds.

RAAF salvage crew in April 1942. Jack Palmer is the fellow in the white singlet

RAAF salvage crew at Carnot Bay in April 1942. Jack Palmer on the left.

Only months after the crash, the Dutch Dakota had already started to sink into the sand

Salvage team at Carnot Bay in April 1942

The rusted remains of the Dutch Dakota in 1979

Mrs. Jacqueline Hundling, with Domenic Charles who had buried her first husband, Lieutenant D.A. Hendriks, at the crash site in 1942

Author Bob Piper with Shigeyasu Yamauchi (left) at Narita airport on 19 January 1982. Bob Piper presented a photograph of the Dakota and a fragment of the 120 lb bomb to Shigeyasu. Retired Japanese Rear Admiral Tsuneo Hitsuji is in the centre of the photo

 


 

I received an e-mail from J Renier van Tuyn on 7 October 2003. He found this home page and read the above story. During the 1970s, when he lived for a while in Baltimore, Md., he noticed a Maria van Tuyn in the telephone book.  He contacted Mrs van Tuyn by phone and she told him that she was married to a Dutch pilot in Indonesia and that he was shot down in 1942.  She could not give him any details about her husband's family.  Neither did she mention a child (He did not ask). She sounded like she was born in Indonesia.

It is interesting that a Maria van Tuyn's husband was a pilot and was shot down in 1942 by the Japanese. Is it possible that Mrs van Tuyn survived?

 


 

Memorial Unveiled 71 Years after Broome Bombing

 

The first lady in the interview is the widow of Lt Daan Hendriksz , second lady is the Ambassador to Australia from the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Dion Marinis is the male in the interview.

Relatives who attended the Memorial ceremony were as follows:-

 

New Memorial

 

The Dutch Ambassador and Dion Marinis near the
monument, bare feet & all after walking to the wreck.

 

Coastline nearby

 

Here you can just see the tyre in the under carriage.

 

Ethan Marinis on the right and his mate Dillon at the left near the wreckage

 

Port wing tip from the aircraft in the museum now, complete with a bullet hole.

 

Blow lamp that Smirnoff and crew used to distil sea water for drinking, WO2 Gus Clinch
had this and handed it down the family line, his grandsons have donated it to Broome Museum.

 

Small pewter cup from the wreckage that David "Dicky" Cox had located

 

The pewter cup in the above photo was found by David "Dicky" Cox while he and his wife Dorothy, who lived in Beagle Bay, were fishing and camping in Carnot Bay. During one of their visits to Carnot Bay, "Dicky" waited for the tide to go way out to access the reef to look for Cowrie shells, especially Tiger Cowries. "Dicky" decided to look at the C-47 aircraft wreckage which was visible at that time. He discovered a pewter cup wedged in the reef. "Dicky" and his wife Dorothy held on to the Pewter cup for many years. "Dicky" unfortunately passed away in 1978 and his wife Dorothy moved to the Bran Nu Dae Retirement Home. The Pewter Cup was passed on to their daughter Kathleen Cox for safe keeping.

 


Photo:- Dion Marinis

On 22 June 2013 Dorothy Cox handing over the cup to Her Excellency Annemieke
Ruigrok for the Kingdom of the Netherlands, who then presented the cup to
Dr. Elaine Rabbitt President of Broome Museum, for it to be displayed in the Museum.

,


Photo:- via Dion Marinis

The late Jacqueline Hendriksz holding an engraved cup that was given
 to Brother Richard Bessenfelder by Captain Smirnoff to thank him for
assisting in the rescue of himself and his passengers. This cup is
still held by the lady on the left in the above photograph.

 

REFERENCE BOOKS

Piper, Robert, "The Hidden Chapters - Untold Stories of Australians at War in the Pacific"

Osprey Aircraft of the Aces Series, No. 22 - "Imperial Japanese Navy Aces 1937-45" by Henry Sakaida.

 

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

I'd like to thank Silvano Jung, Dion Marinis and Al Low for their assistance with this home page.

 

Can anyone help me with more information?

 

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This page first produced 1 January 2000

This page last updated 16 January 2017