80 years since an A9-317 Beaufort Bomber disappeared from Busselton
By Pamela Harrison
80th anniversary of the crew lost at sea
There were at least 160 military aircraft crashes or mishaps in WA during WWII.
Planes were shot down by enemy fire, crashed during training exercises, and some disappeared over the ocean while protecting WA’s coastline from enemy ships.
One aircraft that disappeared was a Beaufort Bomber A9-317, it took off on September 9, 1943 from the RAAF Base in Busselton with five crew on-board and never returned.
Eighty years after the plane vanished, its whereabouts still remains a mystery to this day, and it is the only documented casualty connected to the Busselton base.
A commemoration service will be held on the 80th anniversary of the disappearance of the A9-317 Beaufort Bomber at the Busselton War Memorial from 11am on 9 September 2023
Busselton airbase. Image supplied by Peter Dunn.
Busselton RAAF Base was constructed in 1941, providing landing, service and refuelling facilities for seaward reconnaissance aircraft.
In 1943, Busselton was made an Operational Base Unit, its main function was to fuel and service Beaufort Bombers and Tiger Moths that staged through or operated in the Busselton area, along with other aircraft and civilian planes that also used the base.
In Western Australia, Beauforts belonged to 14 Squadron which formed at Pearce airbase in 1939 as a General Reconnaissance-Bomber Squadron. These planes flew hundreds of patrols from Pearce.
One flew around the coast to Albany via Cape Leeuwin and another flew around the coastline from Albany to Pearce. They looked out for enemy ships, as well as reported shipping movements in and out of Fremantle, the Eastern States and around the South-West. Other Beauforts patrolled the coastline from Pearce to Geraldton, and further onto Exmouth.
The Beaufort A9-317 was on patrol when it disappeared with four crew and one passenger.
Missing crew from the A9-317 Beaufort Bomber that departed Busselton and never returned: Arthur Aitken, Harry Kolbig, Peter Hastie and Cedric Sutton Richards (top left to bottom right).
The crew consisted of two Western Australian lads, flying officer Arthur Matthew Aitken who was born in Narrogin on January 6, 1920 and flight sergeant Peter Douglas Hastie who was born in Pinjarra on January 27, 1922.
Also on board were flying officer Cedric Sutton Richards and flight sergeant Alexander Emerson who were both from Victoria, along with a passenger, Army temporary captain Harry Donald Kolbig who was from SA and with Unit 5 of the Australian Air Liaison Section.
The aircraft, piloted by Aitken, left the Busselton Base at 11.50am to carry out Patrol 'N ' on a seaward clearing scan from D 'Entrecastreaux Point to Rottnest Island before it went onto Pearce where it was due to land at 4.30pm.
The plane was sighted at 12.02pm from a Volunteer Air Observer Post at Darradup.
At 2.30pm, the radio officer reported sighting motor vessel Nordnes approximately 45 nautical miles due west of D'Entrecastreaux Point. She was on-route from Melbourne to Fremantle.
When the plane was overdue at 5.30pm, attempts were made to contact it but were unsuccessful.
An emergency procedure was initiated, extensive searches were carried out that evening by 14 and 25 Squadrons RAAF and 52 Squadron US Navy aircraft, which continued on September 10 and 11, covering the coast from Fremantle to Albany extending 20 miles to seaward.
A more intensive search was carried out 120 miles west of Cape Leeuwin and Cape Naturaliste, and further south to Albany and the American Navy instructed all seaward patrols in the area to keep a look out for the aircraft but nothing was found.
When the Nordnes arrived in Fremantle the next day, the captain was interrogated. He advised that he saw the plane carry out a normal approach procedure, and having identified him, turned north climbing, and was last seen heading south which would have brought him back on to Patrol 'N' track.
The captain said the aircraft gave no indication of being in any difficulties and appeared to be flying normally. Nothing more was seen or heard of the aircraft again.
As there was strict radio silence at the time, no further communication was received from A9-317.
At 12.15pm on September 11, 1943, the freighter Duke of Sparta spotted an empty yellow rubber dinghy approximately 85 nautical miles off the southwest coast of WA and slightly off course of the patrol.
Having circled the area for an hour, and finding there were no bodies in or around the dinghy, the Duke of Sparta continued on her way, failing to pick up the dinghy which would have had identification of some sort. It is considered this dingy was in all probability from A9-317.
On the day the aircraft disappeared, there was a report of a possible submerged enemy submarine in the area 20 miles from Rottnest Island, despite an extensive search by naval vessels and aircraft nothing was found. The idea of the crew being picked up by an enemy submarine was too remote.
Flight plan of the A9-317 Beaufort Bomber. Image supplied.
The Australian Beauforts had been plagued with a mysterious problem and no-one would listen to those who reported problems with their planes, which resulted in more than 90 aircraft crashing and the avoidable deaths of many of its crews. The planes were nicknamed “flying coffins.”
It wasn't until Captain Learmonth was on patrol with two other Bristol Beauforts' and US naval ships off Rottnest, that an answer was found.
When his plane began to shake violently Learmonth realised that the shaking was driven by the tail of his aircraft and despite facing possible death, he broke radio silence calling the pilot of one of the other Beauforts to fly closer and observe the tail.
The pilot could see the control rod to the elevator trim tab on Learmonth's plane was hanging down. It had separated from the tab, allowing the tab and elevator to oscillate and drive the violent shaking of the whole aircraft. Learmonth advised the crews of the other Beauforts by radio what was happening.
Shortly after, the trim tab flicked to the extreme up position overpowering Learmonth and forcing the aircraft to descend rapidly. Less than a minute later Learmonth's plane crashed into the sea killing him and his three crew members.
As a result of Learmonth's radio commentary, a problem with the Australian built Beauforts was traced to a component in the elevator trim actuating unit.
All RAAF Beauforts were grounded until the problem was eliminated and Learmonth was given credit for supplying vital information that solved the problem.
The Beaufort Bomber, also known as a Bristol Beaufort, was designed in the UK as a torpedo-bomber but flew more often as a level bomber. Because of Japan's involvement in the war, and close proximity to Australia, these planes were being assembled in Melbourne.
It was reported that the Melbourne-based engineers who assembled the planes were misreading the plans and had assembled part of the controls incorrectly.
Is this the answer to the disappearance of A9-317?
Could those on board have endured the same terrifying and horrific ordeal that Learmonth and his crew suffered? As did many others in other planes that crashed because of the fault. Were all their lives unnecessarily wasted?
RSL Active launches with exclusive benefits for WA veterans and their families
Get fit, have fun and learn something new with RSL Active, a new initiative with exclusive offers for all WA veterans and their families.
RSL Active kicks off this month with a whole range of events and activities available exclusively to veterans and their families. The activities are a great way to meet people and connect with other veterans and their families in WA while having fun, getting fit, learning new skills, or spending time in nature.
Kickboxing and functional fitness
Join a free six-week fitness program at 10am on Wednesdays from 20 September 2023 at 9Rounds in Rivervale or Lakelands. If you can’t make it to the 10am session, you are welcome to join one other session during the week. To sign up please register here.
Relax, unwind and get Zen with WA’s veteran community state-wide during a free six-week beginner online yoga program. You can join the program from anywhere you can access the internet. To sign up please visit Invisible Injuries’ Veteran Yoga Project.
Explore the Australian Army Museum of WA at the Artillery Barracks in Fremantle on a free tour at 10am on Thursday, 14 September 2023. The museum holds a significant collection of items connected to Western Australia’s military history.
Hit the driving range at Wembley Golf Course for free at 8am on Tuesday, 10 October 2023. To register please visit here.
Join the RSLWA Bowls Section at the Yokine Bowls Club each month on a Friday. The season kicks off in September and runs for six months, the team also plays in other lawn bowls events and carnivals around the Perth metro area.
Painted Teapot Pottery Painting Studio
Let out your inner creative and discover a new talent at The Painted Teapot Studio. Veterans and their families are invited to join a ceramic painting workshop on Thursday, 19 October 2023. To register for the workshop please visit here.
RSL Active Diggers Day
A number of other programs will be released shortly, keep your eye on RSLWA’s social media channels and the RSL Active page for all the latest updates.
Become an RSLWA member
If you are not a member of RSLWA and would like to sign up and take advantage of these great offers please visit rslwa.org.au/members.
Perth Korean War Memorial honours Western Australian veterans
The Perth Korean War Memorial was officially unveiled at a ceremony at Kings Park which was attended by veterans who served in the war and dignitaries from both Australia and South Korea.
The memorial was unveiled on the 70th anniversary of the Armistice of the Korean War by Premier Roger Cook, the Korean Ambassador to Australia Wan-Joong Kim, veterans from the war and other dignitaries from Western Australia and Korea.
RSLWA president Duncan Anderson laid a wreath during the ceremony saying, RSLWA was proud to participate in the unveiling of the memorial, 70 years since the Armistice was signed in Korea.
“This memorial takes it rightful place alongside so many memorials that commemorate the sacrifice of so many in the name of our great nation,” he said.
Work to erect the Perth Korean War Memorial began in 2018, with members of the RSL Highgate Sub-Branch playing an instrumental role in bringing the project to life along with the Perth Korean War Memorial Committee.
Committee secretary Peter Heeney said many of the 44 veterans of the Korean War who were at the ceremony were so emotional and amazed.
“So many were crying and were so emotional because the forgotten war is no longer forgotten in Western Australia,” he said.
“They were just absolutely amazed, it was very emotional.”
The memorial received huge support from both the Australian and Western Australian Governments, as well as the Republic of Korea and County of Gapyeong, which donated the memorial’s centrepiece, a five-tonne rock shaped like the Kapyong Mountains that was taken from the battlegrounds of the war.
The memorial features the names of 1,916 Western Australian veterans who served in the war between 1950 and 1953, and those who served in the United Nations peacekeeping mission in the years following until 1956.
The paving around the memorial has been shaped in the Rose of Sharon, which is the national flower of South Korea.
Premier Roger Cook said the location and design of the memorial has created a fitting site for all who wish to pay their respects.
"The creation of this memorial corrects a long-standing wrong in Western Australia,” he said.
"The Korean War is the 'Forgotten War' no more.”
Veterans Issues Minister Paul Papalia said the WA Government was proud to have contributed to the creation of Perth's Korean War Memorial.
"Thirty-four Western Australians were killed in action and another five died during peacekeeping efforts in the years that followed. All 39 are acknowledged in an honour role at the front of the monument,” he said.
"Close to 90 Korean War veterans are still alive in Western Australia.
"The memorial provides a peaceful and contemplative place for veterans, their families and others to acknowledge the spirit and sacrifice of those who served in the Korean War."
To see more photos from the event please visit our photo gallery.
Veterans offer employers unique skills after ADF service
Veterans often leave the Australian Defence Force highly skilled and armed with unique abilities that make them valuable employees when they return to the civilian workforce.
Defence members who are ready to change careers can be unsure how to translate those skills and abilities into attributes that are understood by employers, which can be a barrier to finding employment.
Veterans’ family members can also find it hard to secure work when they relocate through the Defence force.
To make it easier for veterans and their families to connect with employers looking to hire, RSLWA and Working Spirit have joined forces to hold an Employment Fair at the Port Kennedy RSL Sub-Branch on July 17, 2023.
The Employment Fair is an opportunity for veterans and their family members to speak directly with employers and for employers looking to hire in WA to promote their business to the veteran community.
It is the second time RSLWA has run the Employment Fair, which previously resulted in many ex-service personnel and their family members who attended the event securing work.
RSLWA chief executive officer Vince Connelly said it was a great initiative that helped veterans transition back into civilian life or plan for a career change.
“Anything we can do to make that transition easier for veterans is a huge bonus for them and their families,” he said
“It is also a great opportunity to build connections and strengthen relationships with Western Australian employers who see the value in hiring veterans.”
Working Spirt founder Karyn Hinder said the Employment Fair was a fantastic opportunity provided by two charities that were supporting veterans.
“The fair will give veterans a chance to meet employers who were committed to hiring them,” she said.
“I encourage any veteran looking at transition from service or any veteran looking to pivot careers to attend to meet companies keen to capture your talent.”
Hancock Prospecting Group of companies is one Western Australian employer committed to hiring veterans, they will be at the fair to talk about what opportunities they have for ex-service members.
Hancock Prospecting Group of companies Principal Veteran Employment James Hepworth encouraged veterans who were looking for employment to get in touch with them and take a look at their website www.veterans4jobs.com.au
“The Hancock Prospecting Group of companies is working closely with RSLWA and Working Spirit,” he said.
“Our mission is to employ veterans and support veteran transition into the mining and agricultural industries. We are so pleased to partner with these organisations and others in the veteran community in every way we can.”
Employers based in WA currently looking to hire are welcome to attend the event which has limited spots available.
Veterans, their partners and family members who are looking for work or a career change are also encouraged to attend.
RSLWA and Working Spirit will be at the fair to support veterans, along with employers such as Hancock Prospecting Group, Pedco Engineering, Babcock International Group, Department of Justice, Motorola Solutions, SLB, Ventia, Disaster Relief Australia, Serco Asia Pacific and Cleanaway.
To register for the event visit https://rslwa.org.au/news-events/port-kennedy-veterans-and-family-employment-fair.
Media contact: Allison Stephens 0410 591 901
Veterans invited to Ellenbrook Football Club for Battle of Long Tan Round
The Ellenbrook Football Club will honour Vietnam Veterans in a Battle of Long Tan Round against the Cockburn Cobras and have invited veterans to attend the match on Saturday, August 12.
The special event takes place in Round 18 of the Perth Football League, it also marks the club’s 400th league game with bounce down taking place at 3.05pm after a Battle of Long Tan service at 3pm.
Veteran and Ellenbrook Football Club life member Ronnie Hobbs said veterans should arrive by 2pm and will be looked after on the day.
“At half time we’ll put food on for the vets and money over the bar, those that come out on the day can sit back, relax and hopefully enjoy some good football,” he said.
“The more vets we get down there the better it will be.”
Ronnie said they always held an ANZAC Round at the Club which had always been supported by the Ellenbrook RSL Sub-Branch.
“It is days like these that veterans have a chance to get together, connect with their comrades and have a good day out,” he said.
“What prompted me to dedicate a particular round to a particular battle was a conversation I had a couple of years ago at ANZAC House.
“I spoke to a couple of old diggers who had fought in the Battle of Long Tan and I started to think about that and what we could do, and came up with the concept for a Long Tan Round.
“It will be Round 18, there were 18 soldiers killed in action that day, there will be 18 players wearing Battle of Long Tan jumpers.
“The number 18 won’t be worn that day.
“I have designed Long Tan jumpers and tried to make them mission specific to Long Tan, all the images tie into that era.”
The Club had 50 Long Tan jumpers made for the day, the 22 players selected to play on the day will have the first opportunity to buy their playing number.
All other jumpers will be on display in the veteran area and people will be able to bid in a silent auction from $100.
Once the game is done those that bid can pay and keep their jumper, all proceeds raised through the jumpers will be donated to the Ellenbrook RSL Sub-Branch.
“Steve O’Neil and the boys have always supported us, so this is a chance when we can give something back,” Mr Hobbs said.
Metro South West Veterans and Families Hub
Win for WA Veterans and Families
A consortium of organisations supporting veterans and their families, convened by RSLWA has been awarded a $50,000 grant from the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, to deliver a business case for a new Veterans’ and Families’ Hub in the Perth’s South West.
RSLWA CEO Vince Connelly said this Federal Government investment would greatly assist the shared mission of veteran service organisations in WA – helping veterans and their families thrive in our local communities.
“Our research indicates many veterans want to access services like health and wellness support, financial advice, employment and social activities, but don’t always know how to connect to these services,” he said.
To map out a plan for the hub, RSLWA is in consortium with some of the veteran community’s most experienced service organisations including: Legacy, Soldier On, Fortem, the Royal Australian Air Force Association WA (RAAFA) and the Australian Special Air Service Association (ASASA), alongside the City of Rockingham, Resolute, Oqea, Go2Health, Above and Beyond Dental, Redimed, Ear Science Australia and Rocky Bay.
Federal Minister for Veterans’ Affairs Matt Keogh MP said with this $50,000 grant, RSLWA would be able to undertake further consultation with key local veteran, family and service provider stakeholders, allowing them to identify local needs and opportunities and maximise benefits for veterans and families across Perth’s south.
“RSLWA’s first Hub, Veteran Central in Perth’s CBD showcases the success of how the provision of services all in the same place can make the lives of veterans and their families much easier,” he said.
Federal Member for Brand Madeleine King MP said the Brand community has a proud association with the Australian Defence.
“Brand is home to more than 8,000 Defence personnel and veterans, and HMAS Stirling is, as I've said often, the largest naval base in the country,” she said.
“This hub will provide tailored services, including support for the all-important transition to civilian life; advocacy and mental health services; and a range of community activities.”
WA Minister for Veterans’ Issues Paul Papalia CSC, MLA said ANZAC House is a great demonstration of a successful veteran hub model.
“I applaud RSLWA’s continued commitment to providing crucial services to WA veterans in collaboration with recognised service providers.”
“RSLWA’s invitation to explore ways to support other first responders is an important acknowledgement of the shared challenges faced by our front line workers.”
Legacy WA CEO Matt Granger said they were proud to be associated with the Veterans’ and Families’ Hub and looked forward to contributing to its ongoing success.
Solider On CEO Amy Cooper welcomed the announcement, saying it would assist more members of the veteran community to access vital services they need and deserve.
“It’s pleasing to see the Government recognising the value of these services through its expansion of the Hub network,” she said.
ASASA-WA Branch president David Thomas said the DVA grant was an exciting development and they were excited to be part of the consortium that would evaluate a hub in Rockingham.
“Collaborating with other ex-service organisations will lead to some exciting opportunities and I’m sure that ASASA will find working with RSLWA to be productive and rewarding with an outcome that benefits all veterans and families in need,” he said.
Redimed CEO Dr Hanh Nguyen said they were thrilled to be part of the consortium led by RSLWA to provide specialised medical services for veterans in the southwest metro region of WA.
“As a consortium, we understand the pressing healthcare challenges faced by veterans, particularly in areas such as skin cancer and rehabilitative care,” he said.
Dr Richard Magtengaard, Director of Resolute said, “Resolute – for those who serve, is honoured and excited to be working with the high watermark of veteran service providers caring for our Defence, Veteran and First Responder communities, and their families.”
OQEA CEO Martyn Weir said, “It is reflection of the contemporary approach to deliver a new proactive wellbeing model. We look forward to evolving the model where technology can support improved health outcomes for your veterans.”
Fortem Australia regional manager Lara Chambers said they looked forward to working with RSLWA and the consortium to achieve comprehensive, holistic care and support that would improve outcomes for veterans and first responders.
New partnerships are also expected to be formed in this next stage of developing how, and where, the hub will operate. Options under consideration include a shopfront-style presence, a co-location with one or more existing organisations, or a standalone presence.
“We will be considering innovative ways to collaborate, such as the use of outreach and ancillary services such as a café, childcare or physical activity spaces. The possibilities at this stage are really exciting,” Mr Connelly added.
The business case will be assessed by DVA and additional grant funding of up to $5 million will be made available by the end of 2023 to enable the RSLWA-led consortium to progress the project to operations in 2024, or sooner depending on the location and service model.
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