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  S.23 "Camilla" Empire Flying Boat Registration VH-ADU  
Qantas Empire Airways

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R. N. Smith
September 1939

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Qantas c1942-1943

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AWM c1942-1943
Pilot  Captain Albert Aubrey Koch, Qantas (WIA, survived) Ulverstone, TAS
First Officer  F/O Sydney William John Peak, 408923 RAAF (survived) Thornbury, VIC
Radio  P/O Theo J. Phillips, 267520 (MIA / KIA) Northbridge, NSW
Purser  P/O Walter R. Bartley, 267521 (MIA / KIA) Lakemba, NSW
Passenger  AC1 Alan R. Stephens, 59312 (MIA / KIA) Launceston, TAS
Passenger  Sgt Ernest John Grady, 37501 RAAF (MIA / KIA) Gunningbland, NSW
Passenger  Sgt Ernest Alfred Flanagan, 51288 (MIA / KIA) Parches, NSW
Passenger  AC1 James A. Harris (MIA / KIA) Rock-dale, NSW
Passenger  LAC Alfred J. Ellis, 32238 (MIA / KIA) Hurst ville, NSW
Passenger  AC1 Vincent E. Grogan, 55573 (MIA / KIA) Curyo, VIC
Passenger  Cpl Donald W. Nicholson, 50337 (MIA / KIA) Eleternwick, VIC
Passenger  AC1 Jack S. Sherwin, 69790 (survived)
Passenger  Pvt John F. Walters, 12038796 USAAF, 8th Air Service Group, HQ Squadron (MIA / KIA) NJ
Passenger  Pfc Clyde Dobbs Jr., 101st Coast Artillery Battalion (MIA / KIA) GA
Passenger  1st Lt. Norman B. Slote, O-413215 208th Coast Artillery Regiment (MIA / KIA) NY
Passenger  Sgt Frederick A. Burness, Jr, 33052912 U. S. Army 720th Military Police Battalion (MIA / KIA) PA
Passenger  T/Sgt O'Dell, US Army (survived)

Crashed  April 22, 1943

Aircraft History
Ordered by Imperial Airways, London on September 2, 1935. Built by Short in Rochester, Kent United Kingdom as a C Class flying boat as the twenty-first built. Constructors Number S.844.

Registered in the United Kingdom as G-AEUB with certificate of registration 7676 on March 1, 1937. First flight as G-AEUB on September 11, 1937. Certificate of Airworthiness (CofA) Issued on September 13, 1937.

Delivered to Imperial Airways, London on September 13, 1937. Nicknamed "Camilla" in black block letters below the cockpit canopy on both sides of the nose. "Imperial Airways London" was painted in black block letters on both sides of the fuselage and large block letters "VH-ADU" on the rear fuselage.

The nickname "Camilla" refers to a figure in Roman mythology. Camilla was the daughter of Metabus King of the Volsci. Protected by the goddess Diana, Camilla could run through grain without trampling it and through the sea without wetting her feet. She died in battle at the head of her company of Amazons.

On June 26, 1938 took off piloted by Captain E. S. Alcoc on an around the world flight from Southampton on an inaugural flight from Southampton to Sydney service along Cordelia. Aboard was the first Sydney Eastbound (SE 1) mail aboard.

On August 4, 1938 operated inaugural Sydney to Southampton service for Empire Air Mail Service piloted by Captain L. J. Brain.

On August 22, 1940 ownership transfered to British Airways. Painted with "British Airways" logo below the name "Camilla" and continued operating in Australia.

Wartime History
During the Pacific War, pressed into service evacuating civilians from the Netherlands East Indies to Australia.

On February 19, 1942 during the Japanese air raid on Darwin, Camilla was anchored 200m from the main jetty in in Darwin Harbor. During the raid, both pilots Captain Crowther and Captain Hussey were ashore. During the attack, this flying boat was straddled by bombs but amazingly survived without damage, aside from two small holes in the elevator fabric.

Once the Japanese departed, Crowther and Hussey with a radio operator immediately took off and departed on a flight to Groote Eylandt. At 4:00pm, they took off again and flew back to Darwin. During the night of February 19-20, 1942 cargo and passengers were loaded aboard, including Captain Albert A. Koch who was previously wounded in the crash of S.23 "Corio" G-AETZ.

On March 3, 1943 took off piloted by Captain E. C. Sims on a flight bound for Broome, and avoided the Japanese air raid by delaying arrival until an hour after the raid. Because all the moorings were sunk during the attack, Camilla moored at the jetty. While refueling at Broome, a 30cm section of wingtip was accidentally torn off while by a refueling barge. Deemed to be minor damage, Camilla continued flying until fully repaired at Rose Bay.

During April 1942, exchanged to Qantas Empire Airways Ltd. (QEA) for S.23 VH-ABA. On August 12, 1942 registered in Australia as VH-ADU with Certificate of Registration 784. Chartered by the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) under the department of civil aviation. Painted in camouflage with an RAAF fin flash.

Between August 1942 until April 22, 1943 used to transport military passengers between northern Australia and Port Moresby. Often piloted by Captain Albert Aubrey Koch, F/O Sydney William John Peak, radio operator P/O Theo J. Phillips and purser P/O Walter R. Bartley.

On January 1, 1943 took off piloted by Capt. William H. "Bill" Crowther on search mission to rescue the crew of B-24D "Crosair" 41-23752 that ditched near Kawa Island. Around 4pm, reached Louisa on Kiriwina then around 5pm located the motor launch Markek off Kaileuna Island and landed and took aboard the survivors then flew them to Milne Bay.

When lost, engines Bristol Pegasus XI maker’s numbers: P1/A18023, P1/A18063, S1/A19019 and S0/F19116.Estimated that Camilla had flown roughly 6,500 hours at the time of its loss.

Mission History
On April 22, 1943 took off from Townsville piloted by Koch on a test flight to test the engines. On a previous flight, Camilla had reported engine trouble. After the test flight, the flying boat landed safely at Townsville.

Next, Camilla was scheduled to depart Townsville at 12:30pm to transport military passengers bound for Fairfax Harbor off Port Moresby. Delayed, the engines were started at 12:40pm, then switched off to repair a platform.

At 12:50pm, the engines were again started and Camilla took off from Townsville. Aboard with twenty seven passengers aboard including including twenty-two from the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) and five from the U. S. Army. The weather reports before departing and radio reports en route were favorable. After climbing to 2,000' Camilla flew northward towards New Guinea.

At 4:00pm, Koch heard reports from other aircraft that Port Moresby was experiencing light rain with a ceiling of 1,000' and visibility of 2,000 yards. Despite the bad weather, he elected to proceed believing it was only localized weather that would pass. As he neared the southern coast of New Guinea clouds were increasing and he took a sun sight bearing twenty minutes off Hood Point before receiving reports that the weather was deteriorating, with a ceiling of 600' and visibility of 1,100 yards.

While over Hood Point, Camilla received another weather report that conditions were improving with 1,000' ceiling and 2,000 yards visibility. Flying westward, the weather over Bootless Bay appeared to be clear, but Koch opted not to land there fearing the presence of mines and proceed toward Basilisk Light at the edge of the Basilisk Passage on Natera Reef off Port Moresby but flew into light rain showers and dense overcast.

By radio, Camilla was advised to wait to land until a flare path was laid in Fairfax Harbor. While waiting, Camilla circled Basilisk Light twice at 500'. Due to fatigue from circling on instruments, Koch opted to fly to the northwest but found the weather was no better and returned to Basilisk Light, but conditions had further deteriorated and Koch opted to fly to the northwest toward Yule Island in hopes of landing there, but was unable to find the island or see the coastline due to poor weather conditions and climbed to 4,700'.

Another radio message stated the flare path was still being laid. Koch ordered the crew to instruct the passengers about the possibility of an emergency landing and for everyone to don their life jackets and prepare to use the life rafts. At 5:27pm, Camilla's radio operator asked Port Moresby to turn on their radio direction finding station, but it was not functioning, but a USAAF beacon was on as of 5:00pm and a RAAF beacon was turned on at 5:30pm.

Flying eastward again, Camilla returned toward Port Moresby using the radio direction finding beacons. Radio messages stated the flare path was still being laid and weather conditions were not improving. By 6:20pm, the RAAF marine section had laid a flare path on Fairfax Harbor but was having problems keeping them lit due to heavy rain. At 6:55pm, Koch requested that search lights be turned on. At 7:10pm, three searchlights were on converging at 4,000' and the flare path was reported as laid but visibility was nil.

Due to the poor weather, Koch decided to attempt to land at sea south of Port Moresby towards the southeast towards Hood Point but the sea proved to be too rough and the landing was aborted and Camilla returned to Port Moresby using the radio beacon signals. Flying southward at 3,000' the sea was less rough and Camilla turned northward towards Port Moresby but were unable to observe the flare path, but were able to briefly see searchlights at 5 Mile Drome and 7 Mile Drome.

Airborne for roughly seven hours, Camilla had only 90 gallons of fuel aboard and Koch prepared to make an emergency landing then taxi into Fairfax Harbor and radioed at 7:55pm that he was going to land at sea. Flying south of Port Moresby and descending to 1,500' before landing with quarter flaps descending at 200' per minute at approximately 105 mph with the engines throttled back to a quarter power and the autopilot on. Before landing, purser Barley served cold drinks to the pilots to quench their thirst. During the descent, clouds were observed outside even at 100' altitude before the sea was visible.

Before landing at altimeter reading of zero, the autopilot was disengaged and nose elevated to decease the speed further. Realizing they were still above the sea, the throttles were increased but the right engine did not immediately respond and the left engine throttle was closed as Camilla nosed down descending at 400' per minute and altitude of -30' before impacting the surface of the sea.

Fates of the Crew
On impact, Koch was thrown underwater strapped into his seat with his legs jammed under wreckage before freeing himself and swam to the surface near the tail and attempted to get aboard the sinking flying boat to help the rest of the crew, shouting their names and unsuccessfully attempted to swim inside to rescue them.

The rear cabin door was jammed halfway open, allowing only one person at a time to exit. When Koch approached the door he was kicked away by a survivor attempting to evacuate the passengers through the door and others exited through fuselage windows.

Camilla broke in half with passengers and crew aboard both the nose and tail sections before each half sank, while the wing floated on one float. Koch managed to reach the wing and attempted to deploy a life raft and was bandaged by another survivor before fainting and falling into the sea then climbed onto the wing before it sank.

Survivors were still aboard and were heard crying for help as Camilla sank. Thirteen of those aboard: two crew and eleven passengers went missing and likely drown in the fuselage before they were able to escape.

The survivors floated at sea, with Warhurst unable to swim and swam between Koch and Klaebe, but he continued to panic until Koch gave him his own life jacket. Koch assumed command of the survivors and informed them Port Moresby had been notified and they would be rescued. They saw lights approaching and heard two aircraft overhead, but none reached them. The group of survivors swam overnight as the weather cleared revealing moonlight and drifted eastward and by dawn were off Bootless Bay miles offshore.

At dawn on April 23, 1943 another survivor American O'Dell found the group and at noon first officer Peak joined them supporting himself on a kit bag because his life vest was punctured. The group attempted to reach shore but the current kept them 3-4 miles offshore.

After the crash, RDF positions were not able to record the last position because they were unservicable due to repairs when Camilla crashed. Four launches were dispatched to rescue the survivors, but were delayed due to the heavy rains and conflicting reports about where Camilla crashed. The RAAF crash boat dispatched to search inside the reef hit a reef and was unable to continue searching.

In total, eighteen survivors were rescued. on April 23, 1943. At roughly 2pm, a steam boat towing a schooner manned by a Papuan crew rescued the survivors and transported them back to Port Moresby. Another native vessel rescued four other survivors and transported them back to Port Moresby. Nine others were rescued by an American crash boat.

Four survivors were rescued by a native canoe and transported to Hanuabada. Suffering from shock and exposure they were transported by ambulance to the RAAF Hospital at Konedobu. The natives who rescued them were paid a reward of £5 each including Sisi-Tau and Renage-Kuku.

The wreckage of Camilla has never been found. The court of inquiry report on Camilla reports the loss location to be in deep water approximately five miles from Port Moresby at a bearing of 287° true, or 5 miles south, corrected to west of Port Moresby.

Contemporary SCUBA divers have searched the reef southeast of Haidana Island at roughly Lat 9° 28' E, Long 147° 03' E, the estimated wartime crash location listed for Camilla. Some speculate Camilla might be near "The Finger", a popular dive location in the vicinity. Author Neil Whiting speculates it could be on the outer edge of Sinavi Reef near Fishermans Island, or could be located in deep water and might never be found.

During the 1970s, fishermen from Porebada recovered a control column while fishing on a reef and donated it to William Chapman of the Air Museum of Papua New Guinea. Later, accessioned into the PNG Museum collection as item 7814 / Empire Flying Boat. Later, this control column was identified as one associated with a Avro Anson, of which several crashed off Port Moresby, thus is not associated with this Camilla.

The crew and passengers killed in the crash were officially declared dead the day of the mission. The missing Australians are memorialized at at the Port Moresby memorial at Bomana War Cemetery. Grady and Nicholson on panel 9. Stephens, Grogan, Harris, Ellis, Phillips and Flanagan on panel 10.

Bartley is memorialized on the Sydney Memorial, panel 5 at Sydney War Cemetery.

The four American passengers: Walters, Slote, Burness and Dobbs are memorialized on the tablets of the missing at Manila American Cemetery.

Dobbs has a memorial marker at Marietta National Cemetery in Marietta, GA and at Little River Methodist Church Cemetery in Woodstock, GA.

In 1955, Koch was made a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) "In recognition of Captain Koch's long and distinguished service to civil aviation in Australia." Koch passed away during June 21, 1975.

Ken McIntyre (grandson of Grady)
"I would appreciate any information you could give me on my grandfather, news on the wreck, picture, newspaper clippings etc. There was a write-up in the Daily Telegraph & Daily Mirror newspaper (03/05/1943) with an account from one of the survivors."

The War Diaries of Eddie Allan Stanton pages 109-110
"Friday - 1 January 1943 Louisa - Trobriand Islands 4 P.M. a large flying boat (4-engined) [S.23 "Camilla" VH-ADU] went very low all around us. This sudden renewal of allied air activity around us made us wonder what was up. At 5:15 pm sighted the 4-engined Flying Boat proceeding towards Milne Bay.
The 'Markek' came in at 6:15 pm with flag at half-mast. Had someone died? The answer was not long in forthcoming. Corporal B. Jones reported that a Liberator bomber (B-24) [B-24D "Crosair" 41-23752] had crashed into the sea near Kawa on its return from Rabaul. Short of petrol.
Ordinarily, we would have taken Jones out to Kawa, but today, well we just didn't go. And just to annoy us, something like this had to happen. The plane had gone under and 10 airmen got on a rubber raft. One remained in the plane, dead! 'Marek' went out and rescued them.
'Marek' was bringing the 10 on to us when just off Kaileuna, about 5 p.m., the 4-engined Flying Boat landed and took them aboard. It had been sent out to rescue them. However, one airman died on our launch. They took him, with the 9 others, aboard the Flying Boat, which then proceeded to Milne Bay. This is one occasion when '. . . all out planes returned safely' can not be borne out by fact.
. . . The Flying Boat had been anchored off Bau for an hour."
Challenging Horizons: Qantas 1939-1945 page 91
"There were many individual flights that characterized the Qantas front-line involvement. On 1 January 1943, Captain Crowther [William H. "Bill" Crowther] in Camilla flew north from Milne Bay to the Trobriand Group to pick up the crew of a US Fortress [sic] which had been forced down.
On 5 January [sic, 1] Crowther, again in Camilla, operated another trip to the Trobriands to pick up the crew of a Liberator bomber that had crashed. A party of nine, including one dead [S/Sgt Fred T. Diggs] and three seriously injured, was flown back to Milne Bay."
NAA: A705, 32/17/101
NAA: A11083, 906/262/P1 - Camilla Court of Inquiry
AWM P02557.009
ANGAU Diary - April 1943 - Survivors "Empire Flying Boat"
Daily Telegraph & Daily Mirror May 3, 1943
The Queensland Book of Memories: Herbert Bindley Hussey
The 1961 RAAF Survey gives the position of this aircraft as “09.28-147.03” stating, “Wreckage located on reef 5 miles west of Moresby”.
Wrecks & Reefs pages 141-152
RAAFDB - Short S.23 Empire VH-ADU
RAAFDB - Walter R. Bartley
RAAFDB - Theo J. Phillips
RAAFDB - Alan R. Stephens
RAAFDB - Ernest John Grady (photo)
RAAFDB - Ernest Alfred Flanagan
RAAFDB - James A. Harris
RAAFDB - Alfred J. Ellis
RAAFDB - Vincent E. Grogan
RAAFDB - Donald W. Nicholson
CWGC - Ernest John Grady
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - John F. Walters
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Norman B. Slote
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Clyde Dobbs Jr.
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) - Frederick A. Burness Jr.
720th Military Police Battalion Reunion Association - Sgt Frederick A. Burness, Jr.
FindAGrave - Pvt John F Walters (tablets of the missing)
FindAGrave - 1Lt Norman B Slote (tablets of the missing)
FindAGrave - PFC Clyde Dobbs, Jr (tablets of the missing)
FindAGrave - Pvt Clyde Dobbs, Jr (Marietta National Cemetery memorial marker)
FindAGrave - Clyde Dobbs, Jr (Little River Methodist Church Cemetery memorial marker)
FindAGrave - Sgt Frederick A Burness, Jr (tablets of the missing photo)
WW2 Nominal Roll - Albert Aubrey Koch
WW2 Nominal Roll - Sydney William John Peak
WW2 Nominal Roll - Jack Sydney Sherwin
AussieAirliners - VH-ADU. Short S-23C Empire Flying Boat. c/n S.844
AussieAirliners - G-AEUB. Short S-23C Empire Boat. c/n S.844 R. N. Smith Collection
AussieAirliners - VH-ADU. Short S-23C Empire Boat. c/n S.844 Qantas Heritage Collection
Flying Empires pages 38, 41, 102, 137, 143-144, 154, 158 , 185, 191-192, 196
Thanks to Daniel Leahy and Edward Rogers for additional information

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Last Updated
June 29, 2019


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