Japanese bombing site (3rd Air Raid)
DPI Veterinary Laboratory
Department of Primary Industries Animal Health Station, Oonoonba 4811
In July 1942, the 2nd Group of 14th Kokutai (Air Group), Japanese Naval Air-Force, under the command of Major Misaburo Koizumi, decided to undertake night raids on harbour facilities and airfields at Townsville. In all, five raids were planned; three actually occurred. The raids occurred over three nights between 25 and 29 July 1942. Later code named by the Allies as “Emily", the Kawanishi H8K1 flying boat was an advanced design and regarded as extremely difficult to shoot down. Heavily defended, its armaments comprised dorsal and tail turrets cannons, with machine-guns in two beam blisters, ventral and cockpit hatches and bow turret. Not only did it carry considerable protective armour, its fuel tanks were partially self-sealing and designed that if punctured, fuel was collected and pumped into undamaged tanks. Additionally, the hull tanks carried a carbon-dioxide fire extinguisher system. With a range of 2567 miles, this meant that a fifteen hour flight to a target such as Townsville and returning to base was possible. The bomb crater is still visible and is located on Department of Primary Industry property at Oonoonba. The site can be viewed with permission. The crater has been fenced off to prevent intrusion by livestock. A plaque detailing the sites significance is nearby. Recent plantings of palms surround the site.
Townsville’s third and last raid was significant because it entailed three variants on the previous raids. Allied fighters made contact; a bomb fell close to the populated area and near a vital rail link; and the episode was graphically recorded by a mobile ABC broadcasting unit from a vantage point on one of the hills in the city centre.
For the Allies the lessons of the previous two sorties had been learned, the most important one being for 3 Fighter Sector Headquarters (3FSHQ) to co-ordinate with anti aircraft (A/A) units. This meant that engaging Allied fighters could intercept the enemy without being damaged or shot down by friendly fire.
At 1548 on 28 July 1942, Kingo Shoji, Flight Leader in Emily W-47, departed Rabaul for Townsville. Co-Pilot for this night was Fukuki Morifuji, 2nd Flying Level. Shoji’s report states that eight 250 pound bombs were carried on this raid. This mission originally started out with two aircraft. The Japanese log stated the number of the second plane was W-37. At 1645 this aircraft experienced engine trouble and was forced to return to base. W-47 continued with the mission and at 0025 on 29 July arrived over Townsville. However, 3FSHQ at North Ward had issued a yellow warning at 2350 and had US P39 Airacobras airborne some fifteen minutes before the raider appeared.
Much to Shoji’s surprise, Emily W-47 was almost immediately picked up by a searchlight battery. Although A/A fired briefly, these were ordered to cease to allow the fighters to intercept. At 0030 the enemy was held in the beam of some eleven searchlights, impressive enough for Captain Shoji to record it in his log. Simultaneously, Shoji dropped his bombs a matter of only seconds before the Airacobras intercepted the flying boat. He recorded that while caught in the beam of ten searchlights, he was intercepted by what he believed to be two Hurricane fighters which made seven attack passes at him. As well the plane sent a message to its base
The Emperor’s ship has been attacked from both broadsides and damaged.
W-47 was first intercepted on a tracking between Cleveland Bay and Oonoonba. Seven bombs were seen to fall in Cleveland Bay, between the southern end of Magnetic Island and the breakwater at Townsville, about one mile from the wharves. The eighth of its complement was dropped in a paddock at Oonoonba. The damage the bomb achieved was severing a fence post, almost severing a palm tree and creating a crater four feet deep and ten feet wide. An army investigative team found it difficult to obtain specimens of the bomb casing due to souvenir hunters who arrived at the sight almost immediately after the bomb had exploded. It is the opinion of several locals who witnessed this raid that the Japanese were aiming for Rooney’s bridge which was the only rail link into the city.
While the theory is indeed a possibility, there is another more probable one. As the Emily jettisoned seven of its eight 250 pound bombs in the bay when being attacked, why would it retain one bomb? It is most likely that it simply became stuck in the external bomb racks and was dislodged or released after the interception. The previous night’s bombing raid hints of a faulty bomb rack as well, with seven craters being discovered and a splash being heard on the sea side of Mt Marlow, some two miles apart.
Captain Shoji’s bombing report on the damage he was supposed to have inflicted on Townsville cannot be given credence. In two entries he recorded:
"Dropped 3 bombs near aerodrome causing 3 fires. Dropped 5 bombs on the town causing 2 fires."
Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) Correspondents Chester Wilmot and Dudley Leggett were sent to Townsville after the first raid. Their goal was to capture audio of a similar event on mobile recordable disk and conduct interviews for broadcasting. On hearing the air raid siren, Wilmot had positioned himself on Stanton Hill. The entire recording of the actual raid with Wilmot narrating as eyewitness still exists in the ABC archives.
The American pilots who intercepted the Japanese aircraft were Lieutenant Robert L. Harriger of Rose Bush (Michigan) and Captain John D. Mainwaring of Wilkes Barry (Pennsylvania).
The following day Legget interviewed Captain Mainwaring:
Question: Now, Captain Mainwaring - Do you think you hit the bomber?
Answer: Yes we did, we are quite sure of that. We attacked just after he dropped his bombs. We both made the first pass at him and I think we killed the rear gunner because he didn’t fire on us at all the whole time. I know we started a fire in his tail, but it soon went out.
Question: Yes, we saw the fire quite distinctly - it flared up just when you made the first attack and lasted a short time after you’d finished. I thought it might have been an explosion shell from your cannon.
Answer: Yes, it could have been that.
Question: How did you first come at him?
Answer: We were both above him when we saw him so we were some distance away. Then we edged up on him. Actually we let him go by and then made a stern attack as you could see from the way the tracers went. He began to turn for home then.
Question: I thought he seemed to lose height just a little after that first attack. As a matter of fact having seen the fire on his tail we thought he was starting down.
Answer: Yes, he did come down a little but I think he shoved his nose down to get more speed. I made another pass at him, but it didn’t seem to affect him. But I’m pretty sure I put some more holes in him.
Question: How do you like night fighting?
Answer: Well, it is different from day fighting, but the search-lights picked him up nicely for us.
Additionally, Wilmet interviewed Lieutenant Harriger:
Answer: I made about seven passes at him. I chased him till I ran out of ammunition.
Question: You must have followed him out to sea?
Answer: Yes, I followed him out about 40 miles. I made two passes at him after the … I made belly passes at him from the front and side and could see my tracers going into him.
Question: Was he firing at you?
Answer: His turret guns were firing at me, he was not using tracers, but I could see his gun flashes.
Question: What about his nose guns?
Answer: I didn’t give him a chance to use them.
Question: Ah, ah, -- well, how was he getting along when you left him?
Answer: He was at about 12,000 feet and still diving away to get speed.
Question: Do you think he would get back?
Answer: Well he might, it is hard to say. But if he did get back I imagine he would sink.
Several of those who observed Harriger’s pursuit over Halifax Bay believed that the flying-boat had crashed. No. 104 Radar Station at Kissing Point had tracked the aircraft as far as Palm Island at which point Harriger turned back, low on fuel and ammunition exhausted. Although the Airacobra remained on screen, the flying boat echo disappeared. What those witnesses would never know, nor Harriger himself, because of wartime security and secrecy provisions, was that Shoji made it back to Rabaul the very morning Harriger and Mainwaring were giving their ABC interview.
No.1 Wireless Unit had intercepted a message from Emily W-47 requesting touch-down around 0750 on Wednesday 29 July. The communiqué was immediately “classified", and the ABC’s recordings on acetate disk were never broadcast. But why did the echo disappear from the radar? As the aircraft was still diving when Harriger disengaged, it is probable that it simply slipped under the radar’s detection height. If so this was clever thinking on Shoji’s part; if it had been continued to be tracked, Allied fighter’s might have been sent to intercept the damaged aircraft. The other possibility is that atmospheric conditions were no longer favourable for optimum detection.
Though a local psychic would offer help to the authorities to predict future raids on the city, Townsville would not come under attack again. The final attack on the Queensland coast would occur at Miallo, near Mossman two nights later. The intended target for this mission was again Townsville but engine problems would again plague the Japanese. Mizakura, the pilot who bombed Townsville on two previous occasions would be forced to jettison his bombs. The fifth planned raid did not eventuate.
A plan that had involved up to seven aircraft, each flying a return distance of some 3000 miles, would yield little more than propaganda for the Japanese.
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Townsville Defence Scheme 1942; Vic series 1587/1, 218P.
Townsville Air Raids - Commentaries and Int. By Dudley Leggett & Chester Wilmot, tape no. 72/7/399, W (AP) 24. ABC Archives.
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Honours Thesis, James Cook University, Townsville 1998.