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  S.23 "Circe" Empire Flying Boat Registration G-AETZ  
Qantas Empire Airways
Former Assignments
Imperial Airways

Captain  F/L William Bloxam Purton, RAAF 296 20 Squadron (MIA / KIA) Hobart, TAS
1st Officer
  F/O Mervyn William Bateman, RAAF 267574 11 Squadron (MIA / KIA) Vaucluse, NSW
Radio  P/O Herbert G. Oates, 268073 (MIA / KIA) Darlinghurst, NSW
Purser  P/O James L. Hogan, 268074 RAAF Reserve (MIA / KIA) Rainbow Reach, NSW
Passengers  Plus sixteen passengers
MIA  February 28, 1942

Aircraft History
Built by Short in Rochester, Kent United Kingdom. Purchased by Imperial Airways London (IAL) and registered in the United Kingdom as G-AETZ. Nicknamed "Circe" after Circe a sorceress in Greek mythology. Next, served with BOAC (British Overseas Airways Corporation). Afterwards, operated by Qantas Empire Airways (QEA).

Wartime History
At the start of the Pacific War, this flying boat was pressed into service evacuating civilians from the Netherlands East Indies (NEI) to Australia.

On February 27, 1942 during the afternoon arrived at Tjilatjap with S.23 "Corinthian" G-AEUF.

Mission History
On February 28, 1942 at 5:38am took off from Tjilatjap on Java piloted by F/L William B. Purton (Royal Australian Air Force, 20 Squadron) with first officer F/O Mervyn William Bateman (RAAF) with sixteen passengers aboard on an evacuate flight bound for Broome in Western Australia. The weather was clear with a light haze over Java.

Both Purton and Bateman were Qantas pilots with sixteen passengers aboard on an evacuation flight bound for Broome in Australia to evacuate civilians. Aboard were Dutch diplomats and a U. S. Navy officer plus four Americans.

At 7:09am, radio operator Oates made a routine radio message sent in code to Broome with call sign TZG (the last two digits of the registration - TZ followed by the first letter G. The message stated that a total number aboard and that it was not scheduled to arrive until 4:00pm.

At 4:28pm local time, the other flyingboat S.23 "Corinthian" G-AEUF landed at Roebuck Bay off Broome. When this flying boat failed to arrive it was declared mssing. This was the largest loss of life on a single Qantas Empire Airways (QEA) aircraft.

Afterwards, Allied aircraft flying between Java and Broome were alerted to search for the missing flying boat. S.23 "Corinna" searched for ten hours without result.

No trace was ever found of the aircraft or the crew and passengers. In a long-running dispute over the insurance claim for the loss played out between the Australian government and the U. S. government as this flying boat was under contract via Pan American to the U. S. war department. In the end, both governments maintained there was no definitive evidence that "Circe" was lost due to enemy action and denied insurance claims.

During 2013 research by Australian Phil Vabre and Japanese archival research by Osamu Tagaya confirmed Circe was claimed as shot down by a G4M1 Betty bomber piloted by Flight Petty Officer Yamamoto and Ashizawa from the Takao Kokutai (Takao Air Group) that took off from Denpasar Airfield on Bali on a maritime patrol. During the flight, this Betty spotted and engaged Circe roughly 200 miles south of Java and shot it down with gunfire.

Osamu Tagaya adds:
"I went through all the relevant units for the date in question. It was a simple matter of elimination. When it came to the entries for Takao Ku, the specific incident, as reported, fit perfectly as to time and place. I'm surprised that none had done it before. It was also early in the war so kodochosho (action report) entries were often more detailed and meticulously kept. Later on, as the pressure of war mounted, one comes across a lot of perfunctory entries, as well as some date records that are just missing. But, if and as entries survive for specific events, this sort of exercise should give serious researchers and historians added confidence that the recording of events or perceived events are honest and accurate in the overwhelming majority of cases on both sides. The stories told by the opposing sides often fit like a glove, literally like putting a jigsaw puzzle together; one of the most satisfying aspects of this kind of research."

The crew and passengers were officially declared missing the day of the mission. As the fate of this flying boat was unknown until contemporary research, the loss was not officially known to be caused by a Japanese aircraft.

Purton, Oates and Hogan are memorialized at Ambon War Cemetery on the Ambon Memorial on column 10.

Bateman is memorialized at Adelaide River War Cemetery on the Northern Territory Memorial on panel 6.

Aussie Airliners - G-AETZ. Short S-23C Empire Class Flying Boat. c/n S.842
Kodochosho Takao Kokutai - February 28, 1942
WW2 Nominal Roll - William Bloxam Purton
WW2 Nominal Roll - Mervyn William Bateman
CWGC - William Bloxam Purton
CWGC - Mervyn William Bateman
CWGC - Herbert George Oates
CWGC - James Lionel Hogan
Honour Roll World War II Qantas Staff Casualties (Purton) via Wayback Machine October 23, 2009
Facebook AHSA (Qld) Inc. "Solving ‘Circe’ The 72 Year Mystery of a Lost Flying Boat by Phil Vabre" May 29, 2020
Thanks to Phil Vabre and Osamu Tagaya for additional information

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Last Updated
June 26, 2020

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