Vanuatu visit - Segond Channel and other seaplane bases

Any photos, plans, drawings, directions, helpful hints on visting places where flying boats have been operated from historically, or are being operated from today. I am always interested in receiving 'Then & Now' type photographs to assist current day visitors to these place. I'm trying to record the best places to visit before they disappear for ever.

Vanuatu visit - Segond Channel and other seaplane bases

Postby flyernzl » Thu Jun 16, 2011 6:44 am

Early in July I will be visiting Vanuatu (used to be the New Hebrides).
As part of that trip I will be traveling from Port Vila to Espiritu Santo, spending time in each.

Of interest to me is the WW2 seaplane base at Segond Channel, where as well as the US Navy squadrons, the RNZAF did base Catalinas.

I have accessed the 'Pacific Aircraft wrecks' website, but would be interested in finding out any other info that may be available on Catalina operations in this area and what if any remnants are still available to view.

Any other aviation artifacts still viewable on these two islands?
(I am aware of the 'Million Dollar Point' area, but prefer to keep up in the air rather than down under water. In short, I do not dive).
Last edited by flyernzl on Thu Jul 28, 2011 10:59 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Vanuatu visit - Segond Channel

Postby flyernzl » Sat Jul 02, 2011 2:37 am

I have acquired a map of the Segond Channel area that should be handy.
Seaplane base at bottom left.

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Re: Vanuatu visit - Vila Harbour

Postby flyernzl » Thu Jul 28, 2011 11:06 am

The two main islands we visited were Efate and Espirito Santo

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On Efate, a short distance from Bauerfield International Airport is Port Vila town and its associated harbour.

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Its suitability as a seaplane base is obvious, and apparently the Australians had a small flying boat contingent here prior to the arrival of the Americans in 1942.
This base was developed by the US Navy, and the location can be verified by reference to the Bauer Field map.

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Port Vila seaplane base during the war

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The location is at the northern end of the harbour, about where the Port Vila yacht club is now located

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In the centre of the harbour lies Irirki Island, now a resort. The curved building on the main shore is a casino, and a ferry shuttle runs from there to Iririki.

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Post-war, Qantas serviced Port Vila with flying boats from the Australian mainland.
One of the aircraft utilized by them was a Short S.25 Sandringham 'Tasman' class which had been built as a Sunderland III ML761 and then converted to passenger configuration by Shorts in 1946 for Tasman Empire Airways Ltd. as ZK-AMB

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This aircraft went to Qantas Empire Airways (as it was known then) in 1950 as VH-EBW.
On 10Jun1951 it was gathering speed on the take-off run in Vila harbour when it was forced to take evasive action to avoid a boat. In doing so, the aircraft struck coral and was badly holed. All on board were rescued but the Sandringham was too badly damaged to be repairable.

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The stripped hulk was sunk in the harbour, and I am told that it resides about where the two ships are moored, at the southern end of the waterway.

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It is apparently diveable.
Video of a dive in the Sandringham is on youtube:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mnxk8...eature=related

Back in 1982, Piper PA30-160 Twin Comanche ZK-DOM departed New Zealand to become YJ-RV14 in Vanuatu.

Ardmore, 1976
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After some years of service, the aircraft was withdrawn at Vila and stripped.
In 2009, the hulk was placed on the seabed at Port Vila as a diving attraction.

You can see a video of the sinking here
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XCH8LpWqSH8

After a final lap around the town area, we head for the seaplane alighting area between Iririki Island and the wharves to end our flight

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Water-taxiing across to the beach on Iririki Island we disembark.

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Re: Vanuatu visit - Segond Channel and other seaplane bases

Postby dogsbody » Fri Jul 29, 2011 2:18 pm

I'm very full of envy right now. That looks like a very beautiful, peaceful place.



Chris
"What young man could possibly be bored
with a uniform to wear,
a fast aeroplane to fly,
and something to shoot at?"
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Re: Vanuatu visit - Segond Channel and other seaplane bases

Postby seawings » Fri Jul 29, 2011 8:09 pm

You lucky, lucky, LUCKY.....................Chap ! ;)

And a ride in a Lake amphib as well...!

Thanks for the report... what a stunning place.
Best Regards,

Bryan Ribbans
Owner of:

The Flying Boat Forum
SEAWINGS - The Website

"I put the sweat of my life into this project, and if it's a failure, I'll leave the country and never come back".
Howard Hughes, re: the HK-1 Hughes Flying Boat, aka the 'Spruce Goose,' 1946.
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Re: Vanuatu visit - Havannah Harbour

Postby flyernzl » Fri Jul 29, 2011 10:42 pm

At the northern edge of the Efate coast is Havannah Harbour. This estuary is extensive, and was the logical choice for a sizeable US Naval presence starting in 1942.

From Building the Navy's Bases in World War II:
"members of the detachment rushed construction of a seaplane base at Havannah Harbor to serve a squadron of PBY's. The Seabees built two ramps of coral, surfaced with wire mesh, and provided buoys for mooring 14 seaplanes. By June 1, the PBY's began operating from the new base, bombing the Japanese positions on Guadalcanal. In addition to the ramps and moorings, two small piers, two nose hangars, one 40-by-100-foot seaplane workshop, four 5,000-gallon underground gasoline tanks, and housing facilities for 25 officers and 210 men in quonset huts were constructed."

The seaway used by the aircraft is at the far right of this photo (looking west) against the side of Moso Island.

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The moorings and launching ramps were located down the mainland coast, adjacent to what is now the main road, now looking east

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We went down and dragged the hull in the water, just for old times sake, before climbing away.

Later in the war, this area was a rear area and staging point for thousands of American troops for their R&R.

Little remains on the ground. However, there is a small museum set up on the roadside where a few artifacts are displayed for public viewing

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Segond Channel

Postby flyernzl » Tue Aug 02, 2011 10:07 am

Wartime map of the Segond Channel, Espiritu Santo

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A seaplane base was established in 1943 on the shores of the Segond Channel, south of the Luganville township at Belchif Point alongside the estuary of the Wambu River.

"For a seaplane base, the 7th Battalion constructed a parking area, two pre-fabricated 85-by-100-foot nose hangars, warehouses, quonset huts, and two seaplane ramps in Segond Channel."

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Seaplanes were an essential feature of the war in the Pacific. Apart from their ability to patrol vast areas of ocean, they were vital for rescue work. At this time, in an area larger than continental Europe, there were around 15 'friendly' airfields available to Allied aircraft. Consequentially standard practice for any allied aircraft in trouble was to head out to sea, radio position details, and ditch. The nearest Catalina base would then hopefully dispatch an aircraft to effect a rescue.

The RNZAF had acquired 56 PBY-5 and PB2B-1 Catalinas under lend-lease from mid-1943. They were all Seacats - pure flying boats not amphibians.
6 Squadron was declared operational with Catalinas at Fiji in August 1943 and moved to Santo the following October. They then moved on to Halavo Bay in the Solomon Islands in December 1943.
5 Squadron acquired their Catalinas in Fiji July 1944 and moved to Santo in October. Moving back to Lauthala Bay, Fiji, in November 1945 they retained a detachment at Santo until the following year.

RNZAF Catalinas at the Segond Channel Base during this time

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Above photos via Nev Mines

NZ4029 Espirito Santo 30Sep1945

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Naturally, I was keen to visit this area and investigate what remained on the site after all this time.
However, all land in Vanuatu belongs to someone, even the waterfront. No 'Queens chain' of public property here. I was firmly told that access to this area was not available. You can drive along the public road and cross the Wambu River bridge, but that's as close as you can get. The owners are not willing to allow any visitors

As usual, I wailed and bemoaned my fate. Here I was, so close and yet so far. I had come 1500 miles and could go no further.
My wife, who is well used to my moods, took a more practical approach. She spoke to a waiter. The waiter had a second cousin who just might have a friend of a friend who could possibly arrange something.

So there was a clandestine meeting in a back alley by the light of the moon. Promises were made, gold and virgins changed hands. (OK, I'm exaggerating a bit here, but you get the drift). A covert early morning operation was arranged, a quick silent stealthy in-and-out promised.

Stand by for the next gripping update.
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Re: Vanuatu visit - Segond Channel

Postby flyernzl » Wed Aug 03, 2011 6:49 am

First light the following morning we sneak along the coast road, pausing only to admire the sunrise over Belchif Point. The beach just to the right of the point is our intended destinantion

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At the river, we abandon the car and take to foot power. The site is well overgrown, and some of the plants are a bit dangerous. The broad leaf ones are Dendrocnide spp, known locally as Nangalat or nettle tree. This is a variety of stinging plant that thrives in Vanuatu. If you brush against the leaves it will give you a painful rash that lasts about a fortnight. Avoid.

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The first artifact we come to is the control tower, being concrete it is about the only structure on the site that has survived.

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Feeling a bit like a participant in Raiders of the Lost Ark, I investigate further. The steel ladder rungs have rusted to the point where they would be unsafe to climb

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The makers have left their mark - 40th Construction Battalion 1943

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Working our way down to the waterfront entails paddling through a swampy area

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and we eventually arrive at the beach

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First stop there is at the remains of the wartime wharf

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Alongside this structure is one of the two seaplane launching areas, with the marston matting still visible in places. Seems to be a Catalina strut in there as well.

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Back behind us, the area where the seaplane station was active is now heavily overgrown. However, some of the concrete tie-down are still visible

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Some debris, mostly related to ground handling equipment, lies scattered among the trees

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The beach is also littered with rusty artifacts

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Seems to be a wheel off Catalina beaching gear

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Resisting the urging of my guides to 'grab a souvenir', we return to the public road as silently and as quickly as possible.

Operation Stealth is over. We stop for a breather on the Wamba River bridge. I think I am the wrong shape to be Doctor Jones, I'll leave that to Harrison Ford.

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Re: Vanuatu visit - Segond Channel and other seaplane bases

Postby seawings » Wed Aug 03, 2011 1:21 pm

Smashing! Absolutely brilliant discourse and trip. Well done.......

But, tell me more about the Virgins............ ;)
Best Regards,

Bryan Ribbans
Owner of:

The Flying Boat Forum
SEAWINGS - The Website

"I put the sweat of my life into this project, and if it's a failure, I'll leave the country and never come back".
Howard Hughes, re: the HK-1 Hughes Flying Boat, aka the 'Spruce Goose,' 1946.
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Re: Vanuatu visit - Segond Channel and other seaplane bases

Postby flyernzl » Thu Aug 04, 2011 10:01 am

I think they all got used up. :?

A second seaplane base, Sarakata, seems to have been established near what is now the town centre judging by this January 1944 chart. Presumably it was only used by smaller seaplanes than the PBY base at Belchif. The area would now be part of the modern harbour installations. The callsigns of the various airfield control towers are interesting.

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