History of the Rathmines RAAF Flying Boat Base

World War II

Rathmines was an important base for the Catalina flying boats and their Squadrons, which played a significant role in Australia's RAAF defensive operations during WWII. The RAAF operated 168 between 1941 and 1950, flown by four front line squadrons, two communications units and three air-sea rescue flights during World War II. The Catalina flying boats were the only aircraft to see service with the RAAF for the total wartime operations against Japan.

Catalina operations included reconnaissance bombing, mine laying, supplying troops, coast watches and air-sea rescue missions. RAAF Catalina's were famous for their precision laying of mines in enemy water ways and harbours. The Catalina flying boat was one of the durable and effective aircrafts of the Second World War, due to their range, endurance and good load carrying capacity. Consequently, Catalina's were used by almost all the Allied services including the RAF and RAAF. Although it was one of the slowest combat aircraft of World War II, it outsold all the newer, faster and better-equipped replacements of other manufacturers. Flying boats such as the Catalina placed a special demand on training air crews who not only learnt to fly the aircraft but needed to learn manoeuvres in sea conditions which was usually associated with naval operations. The famous Black Cats were used on covert night operations mine laying just about every enemy port in the South West Pacific Area, operations extending as far as the Chinese coast. During these operations 322 aircrew were lost.

Catalina and air crews from Rathmines were involved in the defence of Australia in WWII events such as the Battle of the Coral Sea. In 1942, a Japanese taskforce bound for Port Moresby was located and followed by Catalina aircraft. The extensive duration of the Catalina enabled the aircraft to remain in contact with the Japanese force and call in the navy. Reports transmitted from the aircraft allowed American and Australian navies to intercept the Japanese force, resulting in the Battle of the Coral Sea. Flying boats from Rathmines were a part of this battle, which ended with the Japanese forced to withdraw from Australian waters, effectively ending the immediate threat of a Japanese invasion of the Australian mainland.

The Base was also involved with the mining of Manilla Harbour, which involved 24 RAAF Catalina's, 8 of which were from No 11 Squadron aircrafts operating out of Rathmines. This operation was possibly the longest operation flown from Australia during the war.

The Rathmines Base was an important flying boat crew training facility for the war. The Base housed the Operational Training Unit for Catalina aircrew. During the 1940's crews for No's 9, 10, 11 Squadrons trained at Rathmines, with a total of over 200 Catalina air crews trained at the base. The Base also provided a Flying Boat Repair Depot, and a Marine Section Repair Depot. New flying boats were made in the USA, and were then converted at Rathmines for operational duties.

The base reached its peak strength of almost 3000 officers and other ranks in 1944-45, and was the largest flying boat base in Australia.

Many wartime heroes served at Rathmines including squadron commanders Group Captain Attire Wearne DSO DFC, Air Commodore W.Keith Bolitho DFC DFC (US), Wing Commander Dick Atkinson DSO DFC, Wing Commander Gordon Stilling DFC, Squadron Leader Lin Hurt DFC and Wing Commander G.U. 'Scottie' Allan.