Sergeant William David REECE

Service No: 18984
Born: Colac VIC, 26 October 1920
Enlisted in the RAAF: 14 October 1940
Unit: No. 43 Squadron, operating from Yampi Sound WA
Died: Air Operations: (No. 43 Squadron Catalina aircraft A24-53), Balikpapan, 21 April 1944, Aged 23 Years
Buried: Labuan War Cemetery, Malaysia
CWGC Additional Information: Son of David Charles and Kathleen Maude Reece; husband of Jessie Constance Reece, of Rockdale, New South Wales
Roll of Honour: Unknown
Remembered: Panel 32, Labuan Memorial, Malaysia
Remembered: Panel 103, Commemorative Area, Australian War Memorial, Canberra ACT
Remembered: Catalina Base Memorial, Rathmines NSW

Six (1) Catalinas of No. 43, led by Thompson, took off from Yampi on the afternoon of 21st April. Over Balikpapan the aircraft met unexpectedly heavy anti-aircraft fire from vessels in the harbour. Flight Sergeant Abbey’s machine was hit, caught fire, and crashed in flames. Flight Lieutenant Gray, captain of another Catalina, saw this crash and shortly after shrapnel struck his own aircraft tearing a hole in the hull. Shrapnel fragments ripped through the cockpit, wounding both Gray and his co-pilot (Flying Officer Seage (2)) in the arms. His crew blocked the hole in the cockpit with bedding and Gray headed back to Yampi Sound. As a result of the opposition and of the inexperience of the crews in mine-laying this operation was not a success, numbers of mines being laid in the wrong places.

Arrangements for this mine-laying operation included the use of Beaufighters of No. 31 to fly well out to sea to meet the returning Catalinas and protect them on the last stage of their flight. This was done and the Catalinas therefore had fighter protection during the daylight part of their homeward flight. Gray made a skilful landing with his damaged machine at Yampi while a crash crew supported by a fire-fighting party and first aid team stood by. As the Catalina could not remain afloat he sent it up onto a beach.

(1) NAA Records show a seventh Catalina from No. 11 Squadron.
(2) Flight James Anthony Seage (406798) was killed on air operations on 28 January 1945.

Extract from Odgers, G.J. (George James) (VX127783) Air War Against Japan 1943-1945, Australian War Memorial, Canberra, 1957 – Pages 218-9

The crew members of A24-53 were:

Flight Sergeant Donald George Abbey (410135) (Pilot)
Flight Sergeant Arthur Maurice Belshaw (67878) (Armourer)
Flight Sergeant Douglas George Hoffman (207799) (Wireless Air Gunner)
Sergeant William David Reece (18984) (Flight Engineer)
Flying Officer Francis Kirby Robinson (402544) (Second Pilot)
Warrant Officer Robert Alfred Swan (404221) (Wireless Air Gunner)
Sergeant Kenneth Everett Thompson (9167) (Fitter II Airframe)
Flight Sergeant Brian Kenneth Winterbon (429254) (Navigator)
Sergeant Norman Donald Woodhouse (18994) (Flight Engineer)

The Captains of the six accompanying Catalinas on the mission were:

Flight Lieutenant Robin Henry Gray DFC (260717) (O21923) Discharged from the RAAF: 24 June 1953
Pilot Officer John Kenneth Longmuir DFC (420764) Discharged from the RAAF: 6 November 1945
Flight Lieutenant Reginald Joseph Marr DFC (34893) Discharged from the RAAF: 20 February 1946
Flight Lieutenant Ivo Ormonde Righetti (409946) Discharged from the RAAF: 19 February 1946
Wing Commander Charles Frederick Thomson DFC (260286) Discharged from the RAAF: 5 October 1945
Flight Lieutenant Ross Truscott (407343) (No. 11 Squadron) Discharged from the RAAF: 26 September 1945


Australian War Memorial Roll of Honour On-Line Records
Commonwealth War Graves Commission On-Line Records
Department of Veteran’s Affairs On-Line WWII Nominal Roll
National Archives of Australia On-Line Record A9845, 147
Register of War Memorials in New South Wales On-Line


McFarlane, C.C. (Cyrus C.) Tojo’s Fate: Australia’s secret war, Sid Harta Publishers Glen Waverley VIC 3150, 2009
McMillan A. (Andrew) Catalina Dreaming: rescues exciting missions and other stories about the famous Australian flying boats of WWII, Duffy and Snellgrove Potts Point NSW, 2002
Wilson, S. (Stewart) Catalina, Neptune and Orion in Australian Service, Aerospace Publications Weston Creek ACT 2611, 1991

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