Crash of a B-25D Mitchell bomber into the sea near Point Addis in 1944

The story
On the morning of 11th December 1944 a newly refurbished B-25D Mitchell bomber A47-24 flew from the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) base at Laverton to the Torquay bombing range out at sea off Point Addis for operational testing; there were five crew members on board. During the exercise the plane caught fire, lost height and dropped into ocean. It was seen to crash by the Volunteer Aircraft Observer Corps (VAOC) observation posts at both Torquay and Anglesea. Newspaper and RAAF reports also indicate a camper Mr Pearson at Torquay saw the crash and alerted the VAOC at Torquay.

The observers, Joyce Graham at Anglesea and Mrs White at Torquay notified VAPOC Control in Geelong from where a search was coordinated. Joyce Graham immediately sought assistance from local fisherman Sid Morrow who promptly launched his boat and together with Joyce went out in rough seas to search for the crashed plane. Their search was unsuccessful. Marion Borrett continued to man the VAOC observation point at Anglesea and communicate with control.

The VAOC Control in Geelong had notified the Queenscliff lighthouse that sent a life boat however the search was hampered by the rough seas, squally winds and poor visibility. The life boat crew saw no sign of the plane but did locate an oil slick. RAAF planes were dispatched.

Meanwhile in Torquay Mrs White sought assistance from local fishermen Allan Smith and Will Thompson who set out in the rough seas to try to locate the crash site. A search plane had located the oil slick and crew members in a dinghy. The plane circled the site that allowed Allan and Will to find two men in a dinghy some 9 miles out to sea. They brought the men ashore at Torquay to a waiting ambulance where they were transferred to the Geelong Hospital suffering from shock, lacerations and burns. The men were Flight Lieutenant Albert Claire from Queensland, wireless operator and air gunner, and Leading Aircraftman Dennis Roberts from South Australia, armourer. Roberts was badly burnt and spent some time in hospital receiving treatment. Claire was not seriously injured.

A further sea and air search was made during the afternoon for the missing men without success. These men were Flight Lieutenant Robert Wines from New South Wales (NSW), captain of the aircraft; Flight Lieutenant Frederick McGrill also from NSW, 2nd pilot and Leading Aircraftman Ronald Cavanagh from Tasmania, armourer. The men were listed missing and believed dead.

Leading Aircraftman Ronald Cavanagh and family

Log book entries of VAOC at Anglsea.

11.12.44Joyce Graham1015 hrs1110 hrs1023
Reported Anson 1 mile N of OP. NE course.
Mitchell circling 4 miles E of OP.
Reported Mitchell has crashed into the sea approx. 6 miles
due E of OP & notified try & send boat to their assistance.
11.12.44Marion Borrett1110 hrs1315 hrs1130 hrs
Control rang for further information about crashed a/c.
Reported boat being launched.
Reported plane circling in NE.
Control rang to say ambulance was being sent to Torquay.
Control rang to say planes reported sighting – crew in dinghy.
Control rang requesting ambulance be sent to Torquay.

RAAF Accident Report

On the 14th December the RAAF at Laverton produced a report on the accident to the B-25D Mitchell bomber A47-24. The aircraft crashed at about 1107 hrs 3 7/8 nautical miles from Pt Danger and 3 7/8 nautical miles from Pt Addis (Ref: reconnaissance aircraft). This report included information from eye witnesses Mr Pearson and F/Lt Claire. An abridged version is recounted here.

The aircraft took off from Laverton at 1045hrs

The aircraft flew over the Torquay area in level flight at a normal height (c. 1000’) heading to sea. She flat dived towards the sea firing front guns, continued on and struck the water, bounced upwardly, and sank back (Ref: eye witness Mr Pearson).

During the normal dive and firing the front gun F/Lt Claire was operating the turret and fired some short bursts into the water. He noticed smoke and consequently extricated himself from the turret to find the fuselage full of dense smoke through which he could not see. He and one of the armourers found extinguishers but their use was unavailing. The aircraft then struck the water, broke open and F/Lt Claire and LAC Roberts were thrown clear. The automatic dinghy had opened perfectly and was within a few yards of F/Lt Claire who boarded and assisted Roberts to embark.

The aircraft was inverted and nothing was seen of the other crew members. The aircraft sunk within a few minutes (Ref:F/Lt Claire).

An air search for survivors was instigated as soon as advice was received … at 1120hrs. An Anson and Hudson were dispatched at 1140hrs. … at 1140 Spitfires were instructed to search the area. The air search continued for 4 hours but nothing but the dinghy with survivors and the oil slick … was observed. The fate of the remainder of the crew was obvious.

The crash was reported by eyewitness Mr Pearson to the Air Observer Post at Torquay, where Mrs White (assisted by LAC Fitcher AN of 4 RAAF Hospital, on leave) immediately secured the services of Messrs W J Thompson and A Smith fishermen of Torquay to rescue the survivors.

Their boat was put out promptly at 1130hrs and following directions went direct to the dinghy, embarked F/Lt Claire and LAC Roberts and brought them to Torquay where they were treated by a Medical Officer from No 7 STT, Geelong and a Medical Officer and ambulance from Laverton. The survivors were taken immediately to the Geelong District Hospital.


Allan Smith and Will Thompson were commended for their bravery in very difficult conditions and letters and reports in the newspapers called for recognition of their service that included Mr Maltby MLA and N. R. Scott, Secretary of the Torquay Improvement Association.
Allan Smith and Albert Claire formed a lifelong friendship and regularly corresponded over the years. Dennis Roberts recovered from his burns and resumed service, however was killed in action in the Penang Straits, Malaya action in 1945.

Allan Smith (1906-1965)

Flight Lieutenant Albert Claire

Albert Claire’s condolence message to the Smith family on Allan’s death

A propeller from the Mitchell bomber was salvaged in 1960 when it became entangled in fishing nets from the trawler Little Michael. The Little Michael was a 39ft wooden vessel, built in 1938. She arrived at Lakes Entrance sometime in the 1950/60s when the offshore fishing industry was getting underway. In January 1983 she caught fire just offshore near the Red Bluff, Lakes Entrance and was destroyed. The propeller is now at the RSL in Belgrave/Upwey, Victoria.

Mitchell bomber propeller at Belgrave/Upwey RSL

Propeller plaque at the Belgrave/Upwey RSL

A memorial to the crash and its victims was unveiled at Point Addis on 9th April 2000 by Bruce Ruxton, RSL Victorian President.  On 21st December 2022 a second plaque was unveiled at Point Addis by Dr Robert Webster, RSL Victorian President, to commemorate 78 years after the crash.

Point Addis plaque 2022

Mitchell Bomber

The B-25D Mitchell was a twin-engine medium bomber used in World War II, and manufactured by North American Aviation.  It had been named for aircraft pioneer Brigadier General William “Billy” Mitchell, and was a twin-tail, mid-wing land monoplane powered by two 1,700-horsepower Wright Cyclone engine.  The Mitchell became standard equipment for the Allied air forces in World War II, and was perhaps the most versatile aircraft of the war.  It became the most heavily armed airplane in the world, was used for high- and low-level bombing, strafing, photoreconnaissance, submarine patrol, and even as a fighter.

The Mitchell bomber that crashed had only recently been received by the RAAF at Laverton from the N.E.I. 18 Squadron and had been refurbished.  The olive surface had been stripped back to natural metal, and fuel tank modifications were made that included in the bomb bay.

Mitchell bomber

Volunteer Air Observers Corps (VAOC)

The VAOC was an Australian air defence organisation of World War Two.  The VAOC was formed on 31 December 1941 to support the RAAF by sighting and observing aircraft over Australia.  The VAOC established observation posts across Australia and provided information to the RAAF’s regional air control posts.  As the threat to Australia declined the VAOC’s role was expanded to include coast watching, assisting air traffic control and weather reporting.  The VAOC was staffed by civilian volunteers and reached a peak strength of 24,000 personnel and 2,656 observation posts in 1944.

The Anglesea VAOC observation point was located at Loveridge Lookout on the Great Ocean Road where a plaque commemorates the volunteers who manned the observation point.

Remembering the 56 volunteer aircraft observers who manned this post up to 24 hours a day from 1942 to 1945.  Erected in 1997 by the Anglesea and District Historical Society.
VAOC volunteer observer outside Loveridge Lookout, c. 1945.

The Loveridge Lookout was added to the Victorian Heritage Register in 2020, as part of commemorations to mark the 75th anniversary of the end of World War Two.  It was built in 1938 by Bertha Loveridge in memory of her husband James; it was his favourite place to view the ocean.  It is one of the last two known remaining VAOC posts in Victoria.

The site of the Torquay VAOC observation point is unclear.  However local residents have recalled at the time people were sitting in a small pavilion at the end of Gilbert Street looking out to sea; one witnessed a seaplane being sighted by the observer.  This is presumed to be the VAOC site.

Presumed Torquay VAOC site

RAAF Gunnery range at Point Addis

During World War Two, Point Addis and forest land to the north were acquired for training purposes including a bombing, strafing and gunnery out at sea.  Ground personal used concrete observation posts to communicate and advise of the accuracy of the bombing.  The range was used first for bombing training in Anson aircraft from Cressy, Victoria and later by other types of aircraft, and the most spectacular for strafing runs by Beaufighters. 

A training camp in the forest was used to train RAAF staff in defensive situations as every unit was responsible for the defence of its own airfield.   RAAF National Service training (1951-1959; 1964-1972) was also conducted at the site and RAAF Reservists conducted ground exercises in the late 1990s.


Anglesea & District Historical Society (ADHS) archives

Australian War Memorial. National Service Schemes 1951-1974.  Available from

Braden, L, RAAF Camp at Pt Addis. ADHS archives

Cavanagh Family

Crash of a B-25D Mitchell. Available form

Daniel Pratt Collection State Library Victoria

Plane crashes in sea off Anglesea – 2 saved, 3 missing. (1944 Dec 12). Geelong Advertiser.

Sea search – RAAF men still missing. (1944 Dec 14). Geelong Advertiser.

Fire while in the air caused bomber to crash into the sea. (1944 Dec 12). Geelong Advertiser.

Three airmen Missing.  Bomber crashes into sea. (1944 Dec 13). Kalgoorlie Miner, p. 4

Lakes Entrance Fishing Fleet Facebook post 18 August 2017

Mitchell bomber historical snapshot. Available from

Monument Australia. Squadron Leader Frederick McGrill. Available from

Monument Australia. Volunteer Air Observers Corps. Available from

National Archives Australia. Casualty report LAC D Roberts. Available from

Rescue of airmen. To the Editor (1944 Dec 14). Geelong Advertiser.

Rowe, D. (2000). Loveridge Lookout Anglesea.  In Conservation Management Plan. Surf Coast Shire: Torquay.

Smith Family History

Torquay & District Historical Society archives

The Bob Molyneux Story. (2004 April 19). Surf Coast Times, p. 7

Verbal communication A. Barrow & J. Duffield

Two Airmen Rescued From Sea Crash. (1944 Dec 13). Weekly Times, p. 4

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