History of the Rathmines RAAF Flying Boat Base

No. 11 Squadron

No. 11 Squadron was established on 25 September 1939 at RAAF Base Richmond. It deployed to Port Moresby in New Guinea later that year where equipped with Empire Flying Boats, it monitored Japanese shipping movements in the region. The Squadron was re-equipped with Catalina aircraft in 1941.

Upon the outbreak of war with Japan, No. 11 Squadron began flying patrol missions across the South West Pacific area. The Squadron was withdrawn to RAAF Base Rathmines following the Japanese air attacks on Port Moresby in February 1942. Due to the Catalina’s ability to travel large distances it continued to carry out patrols in the waters around New Guinea.

In early March 1943 aircraft from No. 11 Squadron took part in the surveillance of the Japanese convoy which was destroyed in the Battle of the Bismarck Sea.

In 1943 No. 11 Squadron began conducting offensive mine-laying operations, which it continued until the end of the war. The Squadron’s most notable achievement in this role was the mining of Manila Harbour in late 1944, which required three aircraft to fly over 14,500 km in the RAAF’s longest mission of the war.

Search and Rescue Wing

Following the end of World War II, the RAAF's four squadrons equipped with Consolidated PBY Catalina were disbanded. On 1 October 1947 a new Search and Rescue Wing was formed at RAAF Base Rathmines, the RAAF's main seaplane base, to provide a search and rescue capability in and around Australia for the Department of Civil Aviation. This unit operated Catalinas, and took over previously-independent flights located at Darwin, Townsville and Port Moresby. The wing comprised four squadrons, which were designated Headquarters, Flying, Maintenance and Maritime.

A Catalina and crew was held at readiness at each of the wing's bases. In addition, pilots, aircraft and ground crew from Search and Rescue Wing were assigned to work with the Australian National Antarctic Research Expedition in 1948.

The operations of the Search and Rescue Wing were hampered by insufficient manning, especially among pilots and skilled technicians. In order to meet its operational requirements the wing was unable to conduct training, and its pilots did not take their full leave entitlements. In addition, the Catalinas were in increasingly poor condition. The Search and Rescue Wing was renamed No. 11 Squadron on 1 July 1948.