Gundaroo’s Ventura

I just remember the biting cold thinking, all the while, that perhaps we shouldn’t have been traipsing – in winter – through bush-land in the Southern Highlands of New South Wales, especially while it was sleeting. Thoughts of all that wasted organisational effort might have dissuaded me from postponing, along with the knowledge that any future date – that winter – could have been just as bleak. We were young, and the prospect of visiting a Lockheed Ventura crash site, so close to Canberra where we all lived, must have been incentive enough.


Squadron Diaries (Form A50s) need to be approached with some cicumspection, this 13 Squadron entry showing A59-55 departing for repairs a week after it had been destroyed at Gundaroo. The navigator on that occasion was E G Whitlam, who returned to Canberra years later as the Australian Prime Minister (NAA A9186,35).


It was the early 1980s although I cannot recall when exactly (this was long before image date stamps and metadata). Although he doesn’t appear in any of these images, it was the late Bob Piper (RAAF Historical Section) who most likely led us to the site near Gundaroo.

The RAAF’s No.13 Squadron had reformed at Canberra in August 1943 and immediately began transitioning from the locally-made Beaufort bomber, to the U.S. made Lockheed PV-1 Ventura. A59-55 was among the first Venturas delivered to the squadron, arriving at Canberra on 16th September 1943. Three months later, while on a daylight training flight north-east of the capital, it was observed diving into the ground at a steep angle – killing all five crew members. No cause for the accident was ever determined, although the Aircraft Accident Data Card (NAA A9845, 114) records that the pilot had only logged 13.25 hours on the type.

Entrepreneur Dick Smith has since built a private residence and airstrip just a short distance west of the crash site.

RAAF Fairbairn Photographer, Kevin Ginnane.

Australian War Memorial Curator, Mark Clayton.
RAAF Fairbairn Photographer, Kevin Ginnane.
RAAF Fairbairn Photographer, Kevin Ginnane.

The code ’34’ was found in most part numbers, confirming that this was indeed the wreckage of a Lockheed Model 34 (a.k.a. Ventura).
Original dark blue paint was still evident on many exterior surfaces.

Araluen

Official records reference ‘Merricumbene’, but for me it will always be the ‘Araluan Valley’

Bordered by the Monga and Deua National Parks, the Araluen Valley south of Braidwood (N.S.W.) is breathtakingly beautiful – as it was that day in November 1984 when I found myself lurching along one of its ridge-top tracks in a 4WD. I’d been invited by Bob Piper (RAAF Historical Section) to visit the crash site of Wirraway A20-116, which had failed to return from a coastal photographic survey of Batemans Bay on 16 September 1943.

School of Army Co-operation (NAA: A9186, 357 Page 41 of 118)

I don’t recall the route we took or, indeed, the wreck’s approximate location. However, I do remember that it was a relatively short and easy walk from the track to the crash site.

These images can speak for themselves.