17: The Disaster at Carnot Bay - and the Parcel (1)
His point of no return came in the bleak early hours of 3 March 1942. He had been standing by, in Java, since sunset the previous evening on 2 March, his fuel and passengers loaded into the Douglas DC-3 Dakota PK-AFV. It did not make the waiting easier to know that a Japanese raid was expected and that the anti-aircraft guns ringing Bandoeng were triggered in expectation. At about 1 am he climbed in and was about to give the "OFF" signal when an official raced across the windy tarmac and thrust a small package into his hands. "Take great care of this, Ivan," he gasped, "it will be collected in the other end." The package, adressed to an Australian bank, was just a shade bigger than an ordinary box of cigars; it was wrapped in brown paper, stiff with seals. There were no documents or written instructions with it, as there should have been. Ivan tossed it into the aluminium box that was the plane's "safe" with as much thought as he tossed his cap on the rack. All his thoughts were bent on taking great care of his plane, his passengers and crew, and, of course, himself. A little box, even for a bank, seemed of minor consequence. He had as passengers five servicemen and a KLM employee, a woman and her eighteen-month old baby. For crew, a mechanic, radio man, and co-pilot. They did not know, but in three days the whole place would be in Japanese hands. Ivan sighed in relief when he was airborne. He was extra careful with navigation; if he did not attain sufficient altitude in time he stood to be blown to bits by the Bandoeng guns.
Once they were over the sea the rest of the journey was simple. Passengers and crew dozed; only Ivan, his blue eyes narrowed in concentration, was watchful at the controls. They were heading steadily for the Australian coast. Joe Muller, the radio man, was ready to pick up the call sign from Broome, where they were to land. It was Tuesday morning, just after 9 am local time, on 3 March 1942. No signal came. This spelled trouble and Ivan saw the first spiral of smoke rising from the little township of Broome, now only 80 kilometres away - a raid? What ever it was, he must get to land at all costs, the Douglas DC-3 was not the kind of ship you could ditch - he carried three parachutes but doubted if anybody knew how to bale out of a passenger aircraft. Those damned Japs must have seen him by this time, he felt; the DC3 was standing in the sky as big as a mountain. Yes, there they were - three little black specks; he recognized them for single-seater Zero fighters. Damn, right in his path - could he race to land before they were on him? The Japs were now within range, pumping in machine-gun bullets as they raced towards him. Four slugs hit Ivan, two in his left arm, one in his right, and one in his left hip - his hands, on the controls, were suddenly bright red - his own blood. In the cabin behind him he heard loud screaming. Everything he had learned at Netheravon about evasive action rushed coolly into his brain. It was a good deal more than the Japs knew. He could see a long stretch of sand beyond the brakers and he meant to land there. The port engine burst into flames - bad, he thought, worse if we explode. There was plenty of time for the Japs to hit the tanks. In spite of the Zeros buzzing around him he made a perfect pancake landing, slewing the big plane nose-on into the surf - the heavy swell, breaking over the machine, put out the fire in the engine almost at once.
Carnot Bay - the waste area in Western Australia where they landed
on the beach. View is seen from altitude of 7000 metres.
Here is how one of the passengers, Lieutenant Pieter Adriaan Cramerus, described the landing to American newspapermen a year later:
"At Bandoeng I was ordered to go to a flying school in Australia by the next plane. This was a DC3 piloted by Commander Smirnoff, a Russian-born naturalized Dutch citizen. Just as we reached the coast of Australia, at daybreak, three Jap fighters flying back from Broome sighted us. We were an unarmed civilian plane but all that that meant to them was that they could attack us without danger and they came at us with all guns going. Smirnoff put up the greatest show of flying anybody in the world will ever see, coming down in a tight spiral and making a crash landing on the beach with one of our tyres shot away and with four bullet wounds in his body."
"When the port engine suddenly burst into flames, the immediate fear was that the fire would spread to the fuel tanks and cause an explosion. Equally hazardous was the possibility of it causing an in-flight structural failure of the wing. Ivan elected for a hasty beach landing below. As the Douglas rolled to a stop, he skilfully swung the nose into the edge of the surf, at the same time effectively dousing the burning engine."
In 2008 Tom Poederbach made an interview with Pieter Cramerus, now living in Colorado. Pieter was 92 years old. The interview describes in detail the escape from Bandoeng to Australia. The interview is brought here with permission of Tom Poederbach.
DISASTER STRIKES Crawling back through the dim cabin Ivan thought if only they could get into the surf, under the plane, the water would be some protection. He ordered those fit to move to try and get out, explaining that each attempt must be made when the Japs were pulling out at the end of a strafe. There was a few seconds to reach safety before the Zeros screamed down again. One by one the men slid out. But Blaauw, the mechanic, mistiming his attempt, opened the door as a Zero streaked by and was shot through the legs.
The Japs went at last, their ammunition finished and their fuel getting low. When Ivan was quite sure that the Japs had gone he ordered those not wounded to help him get the injured to dry land. Mrs. van Tuyn had been shot twice and her baby had been hit in the arm and was badly shocked. Blaauw, with both knees shattered, was in a bad way and Lieutenant Hendriks, a passenger, was unconscious . Ivan knelt in the sand to give Blaauw a shot of morphine. Then he stood up and had a look at their surroundings - these could hardly have been worse. The place was almost completely desert, no trees, no grass, only a few straggly, waist-high bits of scrub, nothing to give shade, no sign of water nor any living creature except themselves. It was obvious that their biggest problem would be water. The reserves they carried in the plane would not last long, however carefully he rationed them. Eighty kilometres from Broome - but eighty kilometres of desert. Ivan had to face the prospect that nobody but the Japs knew they were there, that half his party was wounded - dying. He sent van Romondt, the KLM employee, to the plane to fetch the mail, the log books and the special package from the "safe". Van Romondt climbed, not without difficulty, into the Douglas, now swinging to and fro on the incoming tide. He was clambering out when a huge wave knocked him flying, scattering his burdens. He snatched back what he could - but the little package was not among the salvage. "Never mind, we look for it later," said Ivan, and they both forgot it in the multiplicity of things that had to be done. A cautious whoop came from the radio man. "She's working, only just - I'm sending an SOS - nothing coming in yet, perhaps our battery's too weak to pick it up."