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Edward Willis

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Consolidated PBY Catalina amphibious aircraft on display at the Aviation Heritage Museum, Bull Creek, Western Australia

Rai-Mean is 35 miles (56 km.) from Aileu at a bearing of 198° and in the southwest corner of the province; suitable anchorage for small vessels.  Good tracks run to Suai, Cumnassa and Beco.  Cumnassa has possibilities for air strips.  This town was shown on the Asia Co. map 5 miles (8 km.) west of its true position.

Rai-Mean: Approximately 6 miles (9 1/2 km.) east of the mouth of the Lono-Mea River (not as shown on map).

The anchorage is not very good.

The surf is sometimes very heavy and rough and there is no shelter in the southeast season.  It was found necessary during April to desist from landing stores and return to Suai, which is more sheltered.

Track 26 - Beco to Rai-Mean:

This track is subject to tidal rivers which would cause delay to all classes of traffic.  Rai-Mean is approximately 2 hours journey north from the beach and the track passes through thickly timbered country; swampy in wet weather.  It is situated on the flat coastal belt between the mountains and the sea which varies in depth approximately 5 to 12 miles (8 to 19 km.). [1]

During mid-May 1942 there had been quite a deal of activity at Sparrow Force HQ.  From Australia a message had come that Brigadier Veale was to return to the mainland for a conference and also that one Dutch officer was to accompany him.  It was decided that this officer would be Lieutenant-Colonel van Straaten.  It was also decided that Major Spence would take command of [Sparrow] Force HQ so on 20 May he was promoted to Lieutenant-Colonel and shifted down to Mape.

From Australia it was also advised that a Catalina would be making a flight into Portuguese Timor to evacuate wounded and sick personnel and the Australian and Dutch Officers.

Captain Dunkley was notified of this evacuation and leaving Ainaro with four or five of his worst patients he travelled to Mape where he collected three more men who had been on their way to the hospital.  On 21 May, Force was informed that the evacuations to take place at Suai on the south coast, so the doctor took the sick and wounded men down there to wait for the plane.

However, on 22 May twenty two it was advised from Norforce that the plane would not be landing at Suai but at Rai-Mean the next anchorage along the coast towards Betano.  Captain Dunkley could be given only one day’s notice of this change and had to then move his patients to the new evacuation point.  He left on the morning of 23 May and commenced the trek along the coast, only to find that one of the many unnamed rivers running down to the coast was swollen from the recent heavy rains and was absolutely impassable.  The party was forced to remain that night on the wrong side of the river with the knowledge that the plane was due in and would not be able to wait for any length of time, certainly not overnight.  However, about 10 p.m. word was passed through to Captain Dunkley by native runner that the arrival of the plane had been put back a day and would not arrive until the following night the 24 May.


Route followed by Captain Dunkley and party to Rai-Mean

The next day the river was down sufficiently to allow the party to cross and move on down the coast to the village of Rai-Mean.  They stayed in the village only a couple of hours before proceeding down to the beach where the plane was to come in.  On the fading light of day the Catalina winged across the bay and touched down on the water.  Stores were unloaded onto rubber rafts which had been brought over from Darwin and the sick and wounded, Lance Corporal P.G. Maley, Privates E.H. Craghill, A.A. Hollow, C.D. Varian, H.R.C. Cullen and K. Hayes went on board with Brigadier Veale and Lieutenant-Colonel van Straaten.


Charles Bush - Depicting a scene of the evacuation of the wounded by Catalina from Rai Mean, Timor [2]

The Catalina took only two hours to unload and load then took off and headed for Australia, leaving behind it the first mail the troops had received for some months. [3]

Lieutenant Thomas H. Moorer, US Navy

The pilot of the Catalina was Lieutenant Thomas H. Moorer of the US Navy.  Moorer’s prior battle experience probably explains why he was personally selected by General Douglas MacArthur, Supreme Allied Commander Southwest Pacific Area, to undertake this hazardous mission:

[On the 20 February 1942] one of the Darwin-based U.S. Navy Catalinas, commanded by the C.O. of Patrol Wing 22, Lieutenant Thomas Moorer, had the misfortune to cross the path of the incoming air fleet just north of Bathurst Island.  Attacked by nine Zeros, the plane crash-landed on the water in flames.  The crew escaped in their inflatable dinghy and were soon picked up by Florence D, one of two Filipino-manned ships in the vicinity.  The other was Don Isidro; and both were blockade-runners, loaded with supplies for MacArthur’s men on Corregidor.

[Both ships had been] sent off … by a circuitous route, to avoid Japanese-held territory, that passed just north of Melville Island - and they, like Moorer’s Catalina, had the bad luck to be directly in the path of the carrier-based Darwin attack force.


The [Japanese] Hiryu squadron saw Florence D, bombed and sank her.  For the second time that day, Moorer and his men found themselves in the water.  All but one of the flying boat crew lived to get ashore on Bathurst Island, with 40 survivors from the ship.  Some walked across the island to the Catholic mission.  Most, with the crew of Florence D, were picked up during the next three days by the rescue corvette H.M.A.S. Warrnambool. [4]

After that harrowing experience, Moorer and his crew enjoyed a quieter time flying reconnaissance missions from the Catalina base that had been established at Pelican Point on the Swan River in Perth.

Moorer wrote to Archie Campbell in December 1992 and gave him an account of his role in the Timor rescue mission:

This is an extract from my Flight Log for May 1942.  Note that I flew from Perth to Melbourne to see General MacArthur on May 16, then from Melbourne to Darwin, Alice Springs and Daly Waters on May 19, 20 and 21, I then went by car from Batchelor to Darwin Harbour to join my plane crew and support ship.

On May 22, I took a seven hour flight in a RAAF Hudson to the Beco, Timor area to examine the coast line and select my landing spot.  On May 23 and 24 I took short flights simply to check out my plane and familiarise myself with the Darwin area.

On the night of May 24 I made the rescue flight to the Timor coast near Beco [Rai Mean], returning to Darwin precisely at midnight.  All the six men were in bad shape and my crew had some difficulty loading them aboard.  I remained at the aircraft controls in case a Japanese patrol boat showed up.  I never did get a good look at all of my passengers and that explains why I could not remember exactly how many we rescued.  I did remember Brigadier Veale.

I returned to Perth on May 25, having gone full circle - flight time 64.3 hours. [5]


Flight log of Lieutenant Thomas H. Moorer [6]

Moorer served in several other demanding roles during WWII and then progressed a distinguished and decorated career in the US Navy for the remainder of his working life, retiring in July 1974 as a full Admiral and Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff. [7]



[1] Area study of Portuguese Timor / Allied Geographical Section, South West Pacific Area. - [Brisbane] : The Section, 1943. – (Terrain study (Allied Forces. South West Pacific Area. Allied Geographical Section) ; no. 50.): 16, 46, 82. https://repository.monash.edu/items/show/26455#?c=0&m=0&s=0&cv=0

[2] https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/C174949

[3] [Timor (1941-1942) - (Sparrow Force and Lancer Force) - Operations:] The Campaign in Portuguese Timor, A narrative of No 2 Independent Company.  (Story prepared by Cpl SA Robinson) (No 5 Military History Field Team) - AWM54 [not digitised]: 50-51.

[4] Alan Powell. - The shadow's edge : Australia's northern war. - Rev. ed. - Darwin, N.T. : Charles Darwin University Press, 2007: 91-92; see also Tom Lewis and Peter Ingman. – Carrier attack Darwin 1942: the complete guide to Australia’s own Pearl Harbour. – Kent Town, S.A.: Avonmore Books, 2013: 96, 121-122, 224, 226-228.

[5] Archie Campbell ‘Sequel to Admiral Tom Moorer's query in October Courier’ 2/2 Commando CourierDecember 1992: 10; see also Archie Campbell ‘Where are the Sparrow 20?  Appeal from Admiral Thomas Moorer’ 2/2 Commando Courier October 1992: 15.

[6] Archie Campbell. - The Double Reds of Timor. - Swanbourne, W.A. : John Burridge Military Antiques, c1995: 67.

[7] ‘From Pearl Harbor to Hiroshima: the World War II experience of Admiral Thomas H. Moorer’ American Valor Quarterly Autumn 2008: 4-8.  https://view.joomag.com/american-valor-quarterly-issue-4-autumn-2008/0040648001422301760; see also Greg Tyerman ‘The life and times of Admiral Thomas Moorer’ 2/2 Commando Courier September 2004: 13-17.

[8] Archie Campbell. - The Double Reds of Timor. - Swanbourne, W.A. : John Burridge Military Antiques, c1995: 68.

Prepared by Ed Willis

Revised 3 September 2021







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