History of the Rathmines RAAF Flying Boat Base

No. 20 Squadron

No. 20 Squadron was established at Port Moresby on 1 August 1941 for a general reconnaissance role. Equipped with Catalina aircraft and Empire flying boats, the unit’s first task was to conduct extensive seaward patrols and to clear three Japanese vessels from Australian waters. The Squadron conducted long range patrols in conjunction with No. 11 Squadron until the outbreak of war in the Pacific.

It then commenced anti-submarine patrols and bombing raids against Japanese bases. As the Japanese advanced into the South West Pacific, the Squadron was also responsible for evacuating white civilians from areas threatened by invasion. The squadron resisted Japanese landing forces at Kavieng and Rabaul in late January 1942 and maintained night bombing operations against these two targets throughout the year.

While the Squadron moved to Bowen, Queensland in May 1942 in response to the increasing frequency of Japanese raids on Port Moresby, it continued to conduct reconnaissance, anti submarine and occasional bombing operations over the waters around New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and New Caledonia.

In June 1943, No. 20 Squadron’s role changed when it commenced mine laying operations over the Netherlands East Indies and Philippines. During 1943 the squadron made regular combined attacks across New Britain, in support of Allied plans to recapture the island.

The following year four aircraft were detached for operations from Manus Island. The rest of No. 20 squadron continued with extensive mine laying operations in the Caroline Islands, New Ireland, Surabaya, Manokwari, Kaimania and Sorong.

In September 1944 the Squadron moved to Darwin and for the next few months flew sorties over Banka Strait, The Celebes and Java. Later in the year the unit helped mine Manilla Harbour in preparation for the American advance on Mindanao.

In 1945 missions were also flown to lay mines off the coast of China and drop and extract special agents behind enemy lines. Three aircraft from No. 20 Squadron flew the RAAF’s last mine laying mission on 30 July 1945. Following the end of the war, No. 20 Squadron aircraft flew mercy missions through the South West Pacific, delivering medicine and other supplies.

From November 1945, with the squadron now based at Rathmines in New South Wales, missions were still being flown to Manilla Harbour, Port Moresby and Singapore ferrying Australian prisoners of war home. The Squadron was disbanded at RAAF Base Rathmines on 27 March 1946.