Broome’s WW2 Flying Boat Wrecks
Roebuck Bay in Broome is an amazing place, huge tides up to ten metres come and go twice a day. One could spend days just watching them go in and out, changing the face of the Bay, creating a unique view every minute, different shapes, colours and tones. However one of the more amazing things revealed are a bunch of World War Two flying boat wrecks that can only be seen at low tide on the biggest tides. This means you can only see them two or three days a month, ten out of twelve months of the year.
These wrecks are the remnants of Allied forces planes, mainly Dutch that were evacuating civilians from Indonesia, then known as the Dutch East Indies. As a result of the tides and lack of accommodation in Broome, the civilians had stayed on board overnight. Early in the morning of the 3rd of March 1942, the Japanese attacked from Timor. One of only a few raids on the Australian mainland, it destroyed fifteen flying boats in the bay and more planes on the local airstrip. Many of the civilians and air crews were killed, the final number unknown but thought to be around 80.
So how can you get out and see this priceless and disappearing piece(s) of history?
It’s all really quite simple, first check tide chart and find out the days you can do it. Different sources will give you different low tide markers for seeing them, I’ve seen less than 1.3m, 1m and .86m. My guess is the lower it is the more is revealed and the less water you’ll be standing in. I did it a .71 tide and i could easily get to and see everything. I also did it on a .56m and there’s not much difference on what you get to see. My best guess is that on a tide around the 1m mark you’d be wading through almost waist deep water to get to the Dornier’s but the Catalina closest to shore should be easy.
Second all you have to do is walk due East from Town Beach. Just walk straight down the boat ramp there and keep going straight, it will probably take most people about thirty minutes to reach the first one and another thirty minutes to reach the farthest one. So leave at about that time before it’s going to hit low tide to be out there at the right time. It’s hot and humid in Broome and it’s reasonably hard work going over the mud as it tries to suck at your shoes, so make sure you take some water. Its recommended to wear closed in shoes though I did see a couple of people in bare feet. Don’t stress too much about finding the planes, there’s probably other people to follow. and if you happen to be the first they’re pretty hard to miss on the mudflats.
Check this useful map to get an idea of what I’m talking about, it will also give you an indication of where to look for the other planes once you are at one. The first plane I came to was the Catalina FV-N indicated by site 1. This is actually as far as anyone else out there went on the first day I trekked out and I saw about 15 people, it was probably the least interesting of the three I saw however.
Next I went across to the Dornier X-1 at site 2. This involved some ankle deep wading across where the tide was running out, but these small channels probably move around a bit. Here you can see the front fuselage and a couple of the engines rusting out.
After that I headed to the Dornier X-23 at site 6. This was the most interesting of the wreckages I saw, much more intact and looking like a plane. I could see the tops of the other sites but they still seemed to be under some water (even when I went on the lowest tide of the year) and as low tide had already passed I turned and headed back into shore.
This is a rare chance to see part of WW2 history so interestingly preserved in the mud, accessible only a few times a year and judging by other photos I’ve seen online a history that may soon disappear. The planes are looking a little worse for wear after lying there for 70 odd years, and the decay is only going to get worse. The wreck walk is definitely an interesting tourist attraction that can be done (well) before breakfast and the heat of the day.
For some more history on the attack click here there’s also an interesting story of lost diamonds from a plane downed in the same attack just north of Broome, 20 million worth of diamonds to be exact , most of them still missing, perhaps just waiting to be found. I’ll be up at Carnot Bay in the next few months and I’ll have a look around for them and bring you some pictures, but if I find any I won’t tell.