Most people don’t recognize what an important role the Catalina Flying boats played in stopping the Japanese from invading Australia in 1942. In fact, with eyes on the far north of Australia cape York TI this included Cairns Darwin and the northwestern side of Australia.
In fact, the Catalina did for Australia what the Spitfire did for England.
After the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbour, took Singapore and all of South East Asia, Philippines, Rabaul, Kokoda and most of New Guinea, there were no airports left for us to make any counter attacks. We had to rely on flying boats – Catalina’s which could operate off the water and even the open sea.
We had over 168 Catalina’s, nearly all, at one time or another operating at Rathmines on Lake Macquarie. This was the main training base and became one of the biggest seaplane bases in the world. The CATS were fitted out and equipped there, crews were trained before they flew on to Cairns, Darwin, Port Moresby to drop mines in the Japanese harbours to service the Coast Watches behind enemy lines, to rescue downed airmen. There are hundreds of stories told of these daring young men and their ordeals. Many did not come back! And hundreds were lost. Some of these tales are told in Robert Cleworth’s books – CATS at War and The Fabulous Catalina.
Much has been written about the “Dambusters” in Europe. Our CATS and their crews did far more hazardous and difficult operations dropping mines in enemy held harbours – thousands of miles from base, at night in tropical conditions.
These majestic flying boats designed originally in 1935 are still flying today, as bushfire water bombers, coastguard patrols and private yachts – their original design has not been changed or improved in any way.