March 3, 1942, exactly 74 years ago today, one of the amazing feats of the Pacific War took place. Japanese Navy Mitsubishi A6M2 “Zero” fighters strafed Broome Airfield, in the Australian North West territory.
There were no fighters, there was no Ack Ack… but there was Gus Winckel!
He had just landed his ML-KNIL Lodestar, crammed with 22 refugees from Java, when the raid on Broome started. Infuriated he grabbed a dismounted Colt .303 machinegun and ran into the field. He came just in time.
Somehow a USAAF B24 bomber had managed to take off but Warrant Officer Osamu Kudo went after it in his “Zero” and sent it crashing into the bay, taking its crew and 30 wounded passengers to a flaming death. Kudo then made a second pass over Broome airfield and Gus Winckel fired the heavy machine gun in authentic “Rambo”style from his hip. He riddled Kudo’s fighter with a stream of .303 bullets and the Zero exploded and it plunged flaming into Roebuck Bay. According to post-war accounts he must have hit some of the other fighters as well, since one of them had to ditch in the Timor sea and others arrived bullet-holed at Kupang, Timor.
Gus’ hands and arms had to be treated for second degree burns but it did not prevent the Allied command to send him and his (only slightly damaged) Lodestar back to Java on March 5 to pick up some senior RAF and RAAF brass. He did so under protest and managed to land in the dark on Bandung’s Bua Batu Road – only helped by vehicle headlights – refuel, pick up the officers and return to Australia on March 6…
Gus later joined No. 18 (NEI) Squadron
A thankful Broome did not forget him
Here’s Gus in 2012 – standing right under a sign indicating the road named in his honour. And Broome is not the only Australian town honouring this wild young pilot. Following the Broome air raid Gus Winckel was based out of Moruya in New South Wales from where he flew patrols of eastern Australia. It was on one of these patrols that Gus Winckel is credited with sinking a Japanese submarine.
And here is Gus, standing next to his statue in Moruya, to remember his bravery and that of the other airmen who fought in WWII.
Gus died on August 17, 2013 (aged 100) at Pukekohe, New Zealand