Lake Boga on the Murray Valley Highway, is one of those little towns that most travelers drive through without giving it a second thought.
If you scratch the surface you will discover a fascinating military aviation history. So many places in Australia have played a significant role in the wars of the last century, only to disappear into insignificance within a few decades and Lake Boga is no exception.
In 1941 several attacks by the Japanese in Pearl Harbour and Broome took their toll on the Dutch, Australian and American "flying boats". One attack in Broome successfully wiped out an entire fleet.
Urgent and top secret investigation was commenced with a view to locating a base for them which was far enough south that it couldn't be bombed from the northern land bases of the enemy, and far enough inland that no carrier based aircraft could reach it.
Lake Boga was chosen as it met both criteria, had a roughly round lake providing for landings in any wind direction, and was on the rail line to Swan Hill.
The site was designated secret and media embargos were placed on the publicity of it’s existence well into the mid 1940’s. The base was designated a repair base for Catalina PBY-5A & later model aircraft but saw many other flying boat type aircraft in its 5 or 6 year life span. Two slip ways were constructed and thousands of RAF, RAAF, US Airforce & Dutch personell were housed by the end of it – many traveling each day from Swan Hill near by. They were joined some time later by women of the WAAF who were out numbered by the men something like 8 to 1. A huge number of 2 tonne concrete blocks were poured and sunk in the lake to tie aircraft up on the lake, and many of these have been recovered and can be seen today around the museum site and carpark.
|The PBY Catalina was the most successful flying boat ever produced. First flown in March 1935, they were in production for over ten years and were designed and built by the American aircraft manufacturers, Consolidated Aircraft of San Diego, California. The Museum's Catalina is one of 168 ordered by the RAAF, No. A24-385, for service during World War II. It was built under licence from the Boeing Aircraft of Canada Limited, Vancouver, in 1944, as a type PB2B-2 and arrived in Australia on 3 September 1945, only weeks after the Japanese surrender.
The PBY was the first US aircraft to carry radar and fulfilled diverse missions including torpedo-bomber and transport. Famous were the Black cat Catalinas which, painted matt black, roamed the western Pacific from December 1942 finding Japanese ships by radar at night and picking Allied survivors from ships and aircraft in boats and dinghies. RAAF Catalinas were famous for their precision laying of mines in enemy water ways and harbours.
Source Powerhouse Museum
L19.5m H5.5m W31.7m
weight 85.2 tonnes
PB = Patrol Bomber
Y = Manufacturer - Consolidated Aircraft (later named Convair)
5 = Variant
A = Amphibious (early models were not capable of landing on an airstrip, this was a later modification to the design which was most successful.)
Australia's last operational PBY-5A in 1988
Initially support staff were housed in tents for the early years without heating or air conditioning, and their mattresses were sacks stuffed with straw on bed bases made from farm gates. Later housing was constructed and two messes for Officers and enlisted men. An officer could be invited into the enlisted mess but never the other way round.
Despite it’s designation as a repair base it is now known that many operations into South East Asia were conducted from here, as these aircraft were known for their enormous range without refueling. Hops of 2700 miles were not uncommon, and equipment carried was spartan to say the least to conserve weight! Flying for 15-16 hours with your parachute as the only seat cushion could not have been at all comfortable.
They conducted mining operations in Hong Kong and other places around the New Guinea and Indonesian Islands, conducted low level bombing operations and importantly performed rescue operations plucking aviators from the sea when they had been forced to ditch their aircraft in the water. Of ten these rescue operations were conducted under heavy fire and the aircraft carried only light self defence and were not armoured in any fashion. Hundreds, maybe thousands of men were saved by these aircraft and their aviators.
Low passes by the huge aircraft up the main street of Swan Hill and over surrounding areas were common as the debonair pilots came in “shooting up the town” as it was called, and some fantastic photos of aircraft barely 200 feet off the main street can be seen in the museum.
||If you come here and do the cache don’t miss the museum which is adjacent to the Catalina which is on display outside. It is open every day from 9:30am to 4:00pm and is staffed by volunteers. The local Lions Club created it in what was the underground command & communication bunker which lay empty for years until about 1995. The concrete stays for the antenna tower can still be seen nearby.
The innovative wing tip floats retracted electrically to form the wing tips in flight.
Marvel at the size of the aircraft before you enter and try to imagine how the place looked when you come out afterwards. Be sure and watch the audio visual display also.
Aside from the bunker the only reminders of the history of the site are almost invisible to the eye – it’s not unusual to have a boat ramp into such a lake. But the boat ramp would be one of the few in the country that ever saw use as a slip way for Patrol Bombers!
Nearby the ramp at the posted coordinates you will find the cache. An easy one in a medium sized container capable of containing small to medium swaps, placed purely to bring you to this interesting location.
Further information on the site and a recent fly by of a later model Catalina in early 2005 can be found here. And a radio interview from local ABC Radio here. (Requires RealAudio Player.)
We hope you enjoy it. We did.
djcache & family