B24 Liberator A72-80

Go to content

The Crash


The year - 1945. It is March in the tropics, the days are still hot and humid.

On the morning of 22nd March,
Squadron Leader Nathaniel H. Straus, age 32, 1500 hours experience, is given a check circuit at RAAF airbase, Fenton, Northern Territory, by Flt./Lt. C. E. TUTTLEBY (DFC, AFM) Pilot-Captain of 24 Squadron. During this check, Straus is most definite that cockpit drill and all regulations be strictly adhered to. He impresses Tuttleby as an above average, if not higher category of Pilot in this type of aircraft. (B24 Liberator) He has been assessed as medically fit, not suffering fatigue, with 30 hrs 45 mins flown in preceding week.

The aircraft is a B24L (A72-80) (GR-A) nicknamed “Old Nick” with a picture of a red devil - cluster of bombs in one hand, foaming tankard of beer in other - painted on the starboard side of the nose section. This aircraft was usually flown by
Sqn/Ldr A.W. Nichols and his crew who were grounded for a rest on 12 Feb 1945, after the Mendalin power station raids in Java. The aircraft suffered a “knock” from the updraft from a bomb blast during these raids, but subsequently flew without incident. Sqn/Ldr Straus and his crew were transferred from 21 Squadron on 25th Feb. 1945 to take over this aircraft.


Later that day Straus and his crew, in company with three other B24 Liberators (
A72-77, A72-93 and A72-67), fly A72-80 from Fenton to Truscott Airbase, a large but remote and inaccessible airbase on the Anjo Peninsula in the Kimberley region of North Western Australia. Corporal E.L. McKinley, NCO in charge of maintenance for A72-80, and LAC H.W. Goodman, ground crew, travel to Truscott on A72-80. Corporal D.W. MADDEN (ground crew), who has been given permission by S/Ldr. Straus to go on the mission as passenger the following day, also travels with them. The aircraft behaves normally during this flight.

After landing at Truscott at approx. 1730 hours, Cpl. McKinley arranges refuelling top-up with No.58 OBU personnel, then services No. 1 (port outer) and No. 2 motors, while LAC Goodman services No.’s 3 and 4. They check the Auxiliary Power Unit, and top it up with fuel. They also check the C4 filters and main tanks for water and find no trace. Straus is particularly concerned about water being in the fuel, as four to five gallons of water had previously been found in fuel cells of A72-69 of 21 Squadron.

23rd March 1945.
It is early morning. Weather is as forecast - 8 to 9/10 altostratus, 8000; visibility 12 miles; winds calm; altimeter setting 29.78. - and Straus prepares to go on a pre-planned, duly authorised, routine armed shipping sweep from Truscott to Bali, Lombok and return and he will be leading a formation of three other aircraft. He arrives at his aircraft and greets his usual complement of crew, most of whom have been with him since June 1944. Corporal D. W. Madden has asked to come on the flight as passenger (but has not requested permission from the Commanding Officer). Straus performs his usual checks, including a ten minute engine run in the revetments and the possibility of water in the fuel is remote, as it was checked the previous night, and again this morning. The aircraft is loaded with 8 x 500lb MC Tail fused bombs, 3100 gallons of fuel including bomb bay tanks, and 4000 rounds of ammunition. He taxis with the other aircraft to the SE end of the runway, then halts for approx. one minute. Stretching away to the NW in front of the aircraft is 8000’ by 120’ steel Marsden mat airstrip, 500’ lateral clearance. There is a noticeable low hump approx. halfway along the strip. The compass reads 305 degrees True(X).

It is now 0650 hours.
F/O Ronald Ivan Smith, 58 OBU (Operational Base Unit), is duty pilot in the control tower.

A72-80 begins to roll, reaches take off velocity, lifts off and the wheels retract as normal. After two miles it crosses the coast which at this point drops away into low rocky fringed coastline. The other three Liberators take off behind him at one minute intervals.

Between point of lift off and 15 miles directly ahead, Straus calls the Tower on VHF indicating that he is preparing for an emergency landing, [reportedly ‘
I cannot hold ..{unintelligible}’] and for No.2 to take over the flight. 15 miles across Vansittart Bay he reaches a low, narrow headland, performs a steep banking turn to port (radius 1 mile), and heads back towards the strip. He is still at low altitude (300 ft?) and unable to locate the strip. Straus communicates with the Tower, VHF homing, and the other aircraft - who direct him back toward the strip. He doesn’t communicate the exact nature of the distress, only that he could not gain height.

An aircraft on the ground (
Flt/Lt Eldin Moore, 21 Squadron) reports hearing Straus tell the Bombardier to prepare to jettison belly tank and bombs, and for the crew to put on parachutes.

F/Lt. Eric Valentine Ford in A72-77 approx. 1000ft above and now following behind him reports seeing a bright light in No.1 (left outer) engine and a trail of blue smoke. A72-80 continues to fly in a straight line back across the Bay. The aircraft then crosses a mangrove fringed coastline some 3 mile SW of the strip, curves to port and heads toward the SE end of the strip. The terrain is low, no more than 100’ ASL, undulating and covered with low scattered trees and scrub. He reaches a point approx. 600 yards from the South East end of the strip.

The airfield complex - strip, dispersal areas, campgrounds - stretches away to the NW off the port wing.

The aircraft at this point is at approx. 50’ altitude above the trees, the
bomb bay doors are open and wheels are retracted. Several witnesses mention that the aircraft seems to be flying in an unusually “tail heavy” attitude. Occasional puffs of red flame can be seen emitting from the exhaust pipes of the two port engines. Dark exhaust fumes indicate full throttle.


Two Liberators from 21 Squadron have already taken off, and two others at the SE end are waiting to take off. Straus radios the tower that, due to low altitude he is unable to turn onto the strip, and instructs the tower to get the waiting aircraft off. The duty pilot in the tower instructs (by R/T) the remaining 21 Squadron aircraft to make immediate take off.

The first commences take off run, partly ground loops, recovers, then taxis to the NW end of the strip and stands clear. The second is then instructed by R/T not to take off, and stand clear. There is also some confusion caused by the vereys being fired to guide Straus back to the strip, creating additional radio traffic. Radio traffic records are hand-written, not all is recorded.

Straus continues heading NE for about a mile. Approx. 2 miles directly ahead is West Bay, where air/sea rescue vessel
HMAS Coongoola is stationed, but he continues to curve North - then NW - crossing the coast some 6 miles to the North East of the strip, continuing out into Vansittart Bay for about 2 miles before coming round to the SSW toward a point close to the coast almost directly in line with the NW end of the strip.

During this part of the flight Straus indicates several times that he is unable to locate the strip, and the tower fires several vereys (flares). It is possible that smoke from nearby campfires make them difficult to see. As the aircraft heads back across Vansittart Bay toward the NW end of the strip, all four propellers are revolving.

At 0713, a message is received from Straus saying the aircraft is about to ditch.
(F/L Eldin Moore reports hearing “Sorry chaps, I have to ditch it”. An unofficial, and unconfirmed report says that the words were somewhat more sharply "pithy”.)

The aircraft enters the water with wings level, but at a fairly high rate of descent. Slightly nose down, it impacts heavily, catches fire in the region of the wing roots, and disappears.

A72-80 crash smoke

(Witness :
Flt./Lt. Alfred CHANDLER, Navigator of A72-93.
at approximately 300 yards from the impact with the water, quite a wake was noticeable on the surface of the water, this continued until the aircraft appeared to nose into the water. The point of impact seemed to be in the region of the nose wheel, and a column of water and flame rose immediately, I did not sight the aircraft again. The aircraft did not appear to bounce and the flames appeared to come from the region of the wing roots immediately on impact.”)

There were no survivors, and only three bodies recovered. F/Sgt Rogers on the 23rd, S/L Straus on the 29th and F/L Parry-Okeden on the 31st.

A Court of Enquiry (Wing Commander Black, President) was convened at Truscott in April - but while several theories as to the actual cause of the crash were discussed (locked control surfaces, open cowl vents) - the Official finding was "Undetermined".

Crew lost on 23rd March 1945

Sqn/Ldr N.H. Straus (250759) (Pilot)
F/Sgt H.J. Boyd (427775) (2nd Pilot)
F/O R.A. Whiting (426733) (Nav B)
F/Lt C.D. Parry-Okeden (404485) (Bombardier)
F/O John Wilson Hursthouse (416215) (W.O. Air 1st)
W/O W. R. Flanagan (401748) (W.O. Air 2nd)
W/O H.G. Parker (408591) (Air Gunner)
F/Sgt J.R. Ryan (422716) (Air Gunner)
F/Sgt A.J. Rodgers (436889) (Air Gunner)
Sgt. A.D. Whitehead (121592) (Air Gunner)
F/Sgt R.M. Morris (46563) (Flight Engineer)
Cpl D.W. Madden (36484) (Passenger) *
not in photo)

This photo is from an original print - marked "21 - HB - 1944", and contains most of the crew who went down with A72-80.

(updated August 2009)

A72-80 Crew

“Fanny” Straus, H.J. Boyd, Ray Whiting, Dave Parry-Okeden, Jack Hursthouse, Bill Flanagan.
"Wombat" Parker, "Blue" Morris, "Curley" Whitehead, Tony Rogers, John Ryan.

D.J.Hursthouse 9 September, 2004
(updated August 2009)

At the going down of the sun, and in the morning - we will remember them | dvdh707@gmail.com

Back to content | Back to main menu