March 3, 1942.
‘Now what the heck is this? Dutch Navy Lieutenant Rijnders exclaimed. He could not believe his eyes. It was “Boat #3” a PBY-4, abandoned by US Navy squadron VP-101 when they tried to evacuate the commander of PatWing 10 and his staff.
‘They dumped her sir’ one of the old Navy hands from the Tjilatjap air station said.
‘They had her all loaded up but the engines would not work, so they all piled aboard another Cat and disappeared. They smashed her up though…’
Rijnders had a look inside and decided that “smashed her up” was a polite description of what had been done to the plane. Instrument panel smashed, control cables cut and tires slashed. On top of this, both engines were way overdue for their overhaul and both starters had burnt out…
Exhausted he sat down on the beaching trolley of this aluminum version of a bundle of rags and grimly reviewed his and his crew’s situation.
They had been sent down from Surabaya to Batavia (Jakarta) to pick up a Cat that had been loaned to the British and had been “returned” by them – crash landed in the port of Tanjong Priok. Roughly halfway along their route their train had come to a stop in front of a blown up bridge, demolished by the Dutch army after the Japanese landings on Java. With great difficulties he had managed to find a telephone. When he finally had gotten through to naval headquarters, he was tersely told to make his way by train to Tjilatjap, a port on Java’s south coast and the only one still not blocked by the Japanese. So they had reversed the train and now, two days later, he was confronted with another impossible situation. On arrival they had found a Dutch navy crew busily repairing another heavily damaged Cat, the “Y-65” and there was no other airplane in sight.
To make matters worse, Japanese land bombers again heavily bombed the port later that morning. Believing these attacks to be a prelude to the invasion of Tjilatjap, port authorities scuttled every remaining ship in port to prevent their capture and block the harbour. By the end of the fighting on Java, 23 sunken ships littered the harbour, totalling approximately 23,000 tons. This ended Tjilatjap’s use a port, leaving a large number of Allied troops trapped on Java with no means of escape.
Painfully aware that no ships remained to evacuate them, Rijnders decided to try and rebuild the PBY, to which he informally assigned the Dutch serial number “Y-3”.
Rijnders and his crew worked steadily for three days and nights, helped by a host of willing volunteers, including the crew of “Y-65” that had given up trying to repair their plane.
Rijnders planned to fly “Y-3” to Broome in the early hours of the morning of March 6, 1942, together with recently arrived “Y-62”. He would be carrying eight crewmen and some 50-60 passengers. But as the PBY’s started up, the generator wiring to “Y-3′”s starboard engine short-circuited and it would not start. Unable to lift off on one engine, her crew and passengers could only watch as “Y-62” roared off and disappeared into the night.
Unable the repair the circuitry, the crew decided to use a hand starter, only to discover that the starter for the dead starboard engine had disappeared. A crewman took the port engine hand starter and , unsure if it would work, started to crank the starboard engine. Miraculously the engine came to life…
When they taxied out they faced the next problem. “Y-62” was to have provided navigation on the flight, as “Y-3″‘s damaged compass was off by 10 degrees. All navigation charts had been removed by the former owners, so all the Dutch crew had to navigate along the Australian coast was an Australian Railways Company foldout poster. Rijnders took off for the 1,800-mile flight to Broome, on a course suggested by “Y-62”s navigator and with his tanks only half full…
However, despite his faulty compass, the lack of a radio, the spectre of engine trouble, the low fuel situation and the threat of Japanese fighters, Rijnders hit Broome spot-on, late in the morning of March 7, 1942. After a perfect landing they found they had no anchor. So they swiped one from one of the burnt-out wrecks that littered Roebuck bay after the Japanese raid on March 3.
After they had dropped off their passengers and eaten a decent dinner Qantas staff gave them a proper navigational map. “Y-3” took off that afternoon and arrived in Perth via Port Headland on March 8, 1942. There the Dutch crew was provided with clothes as they had left all their personal belongings behind. While the crew anxiously monitored the doubtful motors, “Y-3” crossed Australia to Rathmines NSW where they left the USN flying boat in the care of the seaplane training station. The boat was overhauled an impressed into Australian services as A24-28…