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Archive Report: Allied Forces

Compiled from official National Archive and Service sources, contemporary press reports, personal logbooks, diaries and correspondence, reference books, other sources, and interviews.
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3 Squadron RNZAF Ventura PV-I NZ4522 Fl/Lt. Frederick Norman Rhys Thomas

Operation: Rabaul

Date: 09th September 1944 (Saturday)

Unit: No. 3 Squadron RNZAF (motto: Kimihia Ka Patu - 'Seek and Destroy')

Type: Ventura PV-I

Serial: NZ4522

Code: -

Base: Piva Airfield, Bougainville

Location: Talasea, New Britain

Pilot: Fl/Lt. Frederick Norman Rhys Thomas NZ/40993 RNZAF Age 26. Survived

Nav: F/O. Geoffrey Alexander Shanks NZ/42463 (132244) RNZAF Age 26. Survived

W/Op/Air/Gnr: W/O. George Andrew Miller NZ/412896 RNZAF Age 28. Survived

W/Op/Air/Gnr: Fl/Sgt. James Archibald Gillies NZ/427276 RNZAF Age 22. Survived

Air/Gnr: Sgt. Richard Ashley Budd NZ/435942 RNZAF Age 19. Survived


Taking off from Piva Airfield, Bougainville to bomb Japanese positions on Rabaul, a major naval and airbase on the northeastern tip of New Britain.

Weather conditions were described as violent thunderstorms and heavy rain for the operation.

Papua New Guinea was of vital importance to the Japanese during World War II. Earlier in the conflict, it was seen as a springboard to launch a possible invasion of Australia. Yet, the Allies mounted a grueling counteroffensive and drove them back towards Rabaul. By 1944, New Zealand was asked to help with Operation Cartwheel. Rather than capture Rabaul, the plan was to isolate it.

On this day the crew of Ventura NZ4522 dived on the target and released their bombs at about 200 feet. Shortly after the initial attack, the pilot was informed that two bombs of the six they carried had failed to drop so the pilot immediately dived in a second attack. The initial surprise attack encountered little opposition but now the flak was heavy and the aircraft was hit, cutting out one of the engines.

The Ventura was known to have a bad reputation for flying on one engine. They knew they would never make it back to Bougainville. Fl/Lt. Thomas instructed W/O. Miller to inform the base of their predicament and that they were going to have to ditch.

Fl/Lt. Thomas considered his options and decided to try and make for allied lines further down New Britain's coast. The aircraft continued to lose height and when they were at about 500 feet the crew was told to prepare to ditch.

The crew was desperately throwing anything out the door to lighten the plane - including the door itself. The pilot recalled other pilots saying they had experienced updraughts under cumulus clouds, so he decided to head for the nearest cloud formation he could find.

By the time he reached the cloud they were only flying at 100 feet when amazingly they rose to 800 feet, the pilot darted between clouds trying to gain further height.

After nearly two hours after being hit, the first American flags were spotted on a barge off the coast of Talasea. Running critically low on fuel, Fl/Lt. Thomas caught a glimpse of a tiny patch of grass, an emergency strip but far too short for his aircraft, however, the only option available to him.

At 07:30 hrs the Ventura thumped down hard before the start of the strip, the pilot applied all his strength on the brakes and with a slight incline, he managed to stop the aircraft.

All five crew miraculously survived and were rescued two days later. The aircraft was abandoned where it still rests today and has become a tourist attraction.

As the story spread of Fl/Lt. Thomas' airmanship, King George VI approved an immediate award of the Distinguished Flying Cross. The honour was announced by New Zealand's Governor-General just days later.

All the crew survived the war.

No. 18 pilots course, No. 1 Service Flying Training School, RNZAF Station Wigram. 19/10/1940

L-R: Rear; AA McClean, Sefton Douglas Lisle Hood NZ/40975 - killed 18th January 1943, Mortimer Tuke Vanderpump NZ/409994 - killed 02nd April 1955, Frederick Norman Rhys Thomas NZ/40993 - Later DFC 21st December, 194 Sq/Ldr, Dennis Trevelyan Herrick NZ/40974 - killed 30th June 1941, Donald Frederick Streeter NZ/401033 - killed 24th July 1941.
Front; William Henry Russell NZ/40987 - killed 28th February 1945, David Cameron Stewart NZ/40990 - killed 13th May 1944, Raymond John Newton NZ.40984 - killed 01st January 1945, JMcL Pearson, Frank Warrington John Oakden NZ/401028 - died 27th December 1974.

Burial details:

None - all survived, further information:

Fl/Lt. Frederick Norman Rhys Thomas. Born on the 24th September 1918 in Motueka. Educated at Riwaka School and Nelson College. A farmer at Riwaka. Obtained his 'A' licence with Marlborough Aero Club. Served four years in the territorial army before enlisting on the 09th April 1940. Served in the RNZAF until the 21st December 1945. Died on the 21st October 2010, age 92. Husband of Marie May Thomas (née Bowers - died 08th May 1989, age 61). The son of Charles Dunbar Tovey Thomas (died 23rd October 1933, age 56) and Ruth Thomas (née Marchany - died 14th May 1971, age 85). Brother of Walter Babington Thomas DSO. MiD. MC. and bar 9234. Born on the 02nd April 1905 - Died 22nd October 2017, served in the 23 Infantry Battalion, all the family are buried in the Riwaka Cemetery, Tasman District, New Zealand.

DFC Citation following this outstanding forced landing:

'Captain of one of three aircraft detailed to bomb a Japanese supply area in the Bismarck area at dawn of September 09th, 1944, Flight Lieutenant Thomas reached the target after flying through the darkness, heavy rain and thunderstorms, and immediately attacked with courage and determination. Two bombs hung up on his first run, and he, therefore, moved his way around the target area and made a further run in the face of heavy enemy fire to release the remaining bombs. As the bombs dropped in the target area his starboard engine cut out, the main fuel line having been shot away by anti-aircraft fire. 'Flight-Lieutenant Thomas was faced with exceptional difficulty. Extremely bad weather on a direct course to the base made it undesirable to attempt the return on one motor, and the loss of power prevented crossing the highlands of New Ireland. Accordingly, he set a course for an emergency strip at Talasea, New Britain. It was doubtful in the extreme if the aircraft would remain in the air, and it was only by the pilot's determination and skill in making use of up-currents below cumulus clouds that he kept sufficient altitude throughout a most hazardous flight of two hours' duration. His landing was an outstanding achievement, particularly with only one engine, and throughout he displayed the utmost coolness and courage. Flight Lieutenant Thomas has completed over 260 hours of operational flying in the past year'.

F/O. Geoffrey Alexander Shanks. Born on the 17th June 1918 at Gisborne. Son of Frederick Alexander Shanks (died 02nd April 1953, age 75) and Evelyn Marie Gertrude Shanks (née Woodward - died 15th November 1967, age 68). Enlisted on the 10th January 1942. Left RNZAF on the 08th October 1945 and transferred to the reserves until the 11th September 1962. Final rank Fl/Lt. Passed away on the 20th September 2001, age 83. Buried at Taruheru Cemetery, Gisborne, New Zealand.

MiD Citation, 22nd March 1946:

'In recognition of gallant service rendered during the war. Completed 3 tours in the south and southwest Pacific. One on Hudsons with 9 squadron and then 2 on Ventura with 3 squadron'.

W/O. George Andrew Miller. Born on the 25th November 1916 at Patea. Enlisted on the 11th of May 1941. Left RNZAF on the19th May 1945. Son of David Wright Miller (died 17th January 1957, age 75) and Mary Elizabeth Emily Miller (née Smith - died 30th August 1959, age 63) He passed away on the 11th of May 1983 at Te Awamutu, age 66.

MiD Citation, 10th May 1945:

'For meritorious service. Following the completion of his wireless and gunnery training in Canad W/O. Miller assisted in the ferry of a Mitchel. from Montreal to Australia. In May 1942 he joined 3 squadron RNZAF (Hudson) and then in September was posted to 9 squadron (Hudson) at Plaines des Gaiacs, New Caledonia where he completed 67 sorties. On 07th December 1942, his aircraft crash-landed and was wrecked. In March 1943 he rejoined 3 squadron at Guadacanal and on the 14th of April, his aircraft crashed on take-off and again was wrecked. He completed 31 sorties with 3 squadron. Later on the 22nd December 1943 his 2 squadron Ventura crashed on take-off and was wrecked, while on a later tour with 3 squadron during which he completed a further 46 sorties he forced landed at Talasea, New Britain. W/O. Miller completed 3 tours of duty in the Pacific'.

Sgt. Richard Ashley Budd. Born on the 04th January 1925 in Carterton, Wellington. Son of Harold Frank Budd (died 08th June 1965, age 76) and Anne Elizabeth Budd (née Penfold - died 27th June 1964, age 75). Husband of Delys Laurie (néeTaylor - died 26th March 2004, age 80) Employed as accounts clerk by Guardian Trust in Wellington prior to service. In the Air Training Corps for 6 months. Enlisted on the 17th April 1943 at Omaka as AC2 aircrafthand air training corp Gp V. Ground Training Depot course 17th April 11th - June 1943, to Taieri 11th June to Delta 15th October 1943 and to Rotorua on the 05th October 1943. Initial Training Wing on the 12th December 1943 as LAC Aircrew under training (Delta PoR 163, Rotorua 269), Remustered to Air Gunner under training on the 03rd February 1944. (Rot/26/44), to Ohakea 21st February 1944. (A/G course Gunnery Training School. (21st February - 31st March 1944. Awarded air gunner badge and promoted to sergeant on the 03rd April 1944. Embarked for forwarding area 19th Mat 1944. Disembarked New Zealand (Personnel Reception Pool Remuera) 22nd November 1944, reformed with 3 squadron at Whenuapai assumed on the 02nd January 155. Medal entitlement: 1939/45 Star, Pacific Star, War Medal 39/45, New Zealand War Service Medal. Passed away on the 19th May 2001, age 76. Buried at Taradale Cemetery, Section D, Plot 24, Hawkes Bay, New Zealand.

Fl/Sgt. James Archibald Gillies. Born on the 08th June 1922 in Hampden, Otago. Employed as a farmer by father at Hampden prior to service. Served 4 months in Home Guard, 6 weeks in the Territorials and 2 years in the Cadets. Enlisted on the 11th of July 1942 at Gisborne. To Rotorua Initial Training Wing on the 06th June 1943 as AC2 wireless operator air gunner. Attached to No. 1 Operational Training Unit on the 02nd April 1943. Awarded air gunner badge and promoted to sergeant on the 30th April 1943. Fl/Sgt. on the 28th of October 1943 and W/O. on the 28th of October 1944. Embarked for forwarding area and 9 squadron overseas on the 15th September 1943, then to 3 squadron on the 15th October 1943. Embarked for New Zealand on or about the 22nd January for training on the Ventura.

Researched and dedicated to the relatives of this crew with thanks to Dave Duxbury and the extensive research by Errol Martyn and his publications: “For Your Tomorrow Vols. 1-3”, Auckland Library Heritage Collection, Weekly News of New Zealand, Museum of Transport and Technology, Auckland, 'For Such Deeds' Gp. Cpt. C.M Hanson, Air Force Museum of New Zealand, Wigram, Brian Leonard Lockstone personal collection, other sources as quoted below:

KTY 17-02-2022

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