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RAAF Black Cats

Time creates history and time allows access to information kept tucked away, out of sight in various Nations Archives, information which when it was recorded was considered a necessity of the time, but in looking back, more than 60 years later tells a fascinating story.

In this instance the story is one of the almost unheralded PBY Catalina flying boats and the massive impact they and their crews had on the war raging in the Pacific.

James Reginald (Reg) Cleworth was one of the crew of a PBY, better known as a Catalina; their navigator, a member of the 20 Squadron, a young man who enrolled in the Royal Australian Airforce, rising to the rank of Warrant Officer. He failed to return from a mission out of Darwin in 1945.

RAAF Black Cats, is his story as well as the many men who flew dangerous missions, many of whom gave their lives, either by crashing or falling into the hands of the Japanese, but all contributed to the final, but slow defeat of the Imperial Japanese Army’s invasion of the Pacific region.

After Reg’s mother Janet, who never recovered fully from the loss of her much-loved eldest child, passed away in 1986 his brother Robert (Bob) felt he could look further into the scant few details provided to the family on his brother’s death, so many years before. That Reg prophesied his death on his last visit home, always remained with Bob.

The work of 20 Squadron was top secret, a situation that remained in place for many, many years which left scant information able to be discovered easily for research purposes.

Bob began by seeking out Catalina crew members through the RSL, slowly earning their trust and slowly gleaning many of the stories that appear in the book, all of which helped him build a framework around a sector of the Pacific War kept so secretive, that their incredible role in MacArthur’s strategic plan for the South West Pacific may never have been told.

A chance meeting during a visit to Ivor Collins, who was a member of the RAAF/US mine laying campaign, and with whom Bob had built a firm friendship over the years of researching the 20 Squadron history, provided the final details required to fill in the many gaps between the stories.

Bob meet Steven Schafer, chief Archivist with National Archives and Administration (NARA) on a bus in a snow storm, a man who granted him access to archival records as long as ‘you catalogue the contents as you go’.

This series of events provided more than enough information for this fascinating and absolutely absorbing story of a section of Australian and American history that is well overdue for recognition.

RAAF Black Cats has been written in an almost laconic style, well known to be a trait of many men of the Australian Armed Forces during the war years, which has allowed their voices and their bravery to be recognised in a powerful, immensely readable style.

Author Robert Cleworth and John Suter Linton
Publisher Allen and Unwin
ISBN 9781760633066
Distributor Allen and Unwin
Released September 2019