Phil Buckley reports.
So your wanting a PBY Catalina for a memorial display, do you just pop down to the local airport and hopefully find one on sale? No. You try Ebay and find one over 16,000km away to buy….. This is how the Australian based Rathmines Catalina Memorial Park Assoc Inc ended up with a static PBY-5A Catalina in early 2013 for its future museum where it intends to honor and recognize the heroism of the RAAF Catalina crews in WW2.
Located just over an hour north of Sydney, NSW, Australia at Rathmines, on a the edge of a large lake system, lingers the remains of a WWII era seaplane base which is after 70years slowly becoming recognized as a historical site. The number of buildings that remain may have shrunk over the years since it was closed in early 1960s but there are still enough to inspire a committed band of volunteers and groups to make this location become a national tourist destination. The base in 1930s-1960s became a very popular place and also as a result of WW2, it is deeply connected with Australian war history. The Rathmines base is primarily known as a Catalina base but during WWII it also hosted Sunderlands, Mariners, Kingfishers and Dornier seaplanes. Between 1941 and 1952 the RAAF operated a total of 168 Catalinas, flown by four front line squadrons, two communications units and three air-sea rescue flights.
The RAAF Catalina flying boats arrived at the Rathmines in early 1941 and started to do training and fly operational missions deep into Asia from the base up to end of the war. Rathmines played a massive part in the defence of Australia in WWII and it is said that the Catalina essentially helped saved Australia as it spotted many Japanese invasion fleets in the Pacific, helped mine and destroy the Japanese navy and also saved many downed pilots lives. During these operations 322 RAAF aircrew members were lost in action. During WW2, the base at Rathmines became the largest RAAF flying boat base in the southern hemisphere with almost 3,000 RAAF personnel based there during 1944-45. Across the large base were once 230 buildings but now only a handful remain, as most were sold off in last few decades once it was closed. Over the last few years a Catalina Festival has been held at the base site each November and this has brought people in to learn about the history of the seaplane base. The Rathmines Catalina Memorial Park Assoc Inc has developed a plan to build a museum / hangar on the base to educate and form a memorial to the Catalina veterans so that their legacy is not forgotten. To get this moving, the RCMPA brought their own static Catalina restoration project on eBay and in doing so, acquired a cheap priced airframe at only $20,000 US from San Juan, Puerto Rico, South America. The airframe has a bit of corrosion needing to be controlled due to sitting outside for many years.
Disassembling of the aircraft began in mid 2013 so it could be shipped back to Australia. Volunteers from the RCMPA have travelled to San Juan many times, staying for weeks at a time, to disassemble the aircraft. Over a few long hard and hot months they finally achieved their goal by late 2013. In early 2014 the fuselage and wings were finally shipped out of the country and have begun their long journey to Australia. In late 2013 several parts had already arrived in Sydney by freight, such as engines and the rudder. The intended plans is now to get all the airframe onto Australian soil by early March 2014 and soon after more of the rebuilding will recommence at Rathmines.The static Catalina will be overhauled to restore the airframe into WWII colours as the project progresses.
A French shipping company was contracted to ship wings and fuselage to Australia.On January 24, 2014 the fuselage of “our Girl” arrived safely in Jacksonville, FL for an intermediate stop before to head to Australia.
If you want to support The Rathmines Catalina Memorial Park Trust and the restoration of the PBY 5A Catalina – ‘Our Girl’ click HERE.