Vultee A-35B-VN Vengeance Mk. IV, lost - 1946

Text: Peter Taylor

Location - Images

   Gallery    Home    Legislation    Links    Members    Project Index   

     In July 1989 my brother Colin and I were directed to a strange anomaly on the seabed off Williamstown by Phillip McCubbin, a local professional fisherman. The anomaly showed up on his sidescan sonar and depth sounder. I went down first to investigate, half expecting to find another piece of the Kakariki. I was more than a bit surprised when I noticed that this piece of wreckage had wings. This turned out to be the remains of a Vultee Vengeance dive-bomber which crashed into the water off Williamstown in March 1946. The site was subsequently reported to the Victorian Maritime Heritage Unit.


     What seemed like a very simple task of identifying the site turned into a three year struggle to find anything that resembled fact. The RAAF museum at Point Cook was contacted by phone to see if they knew anything about a plane crashing off Williamstown. Their files, it seems, are far from complete and they had no record of an accident there. They were quite surprised to hear about the find. The museum at the base was visited to see if by viewing the old planes on display a match could be made, but this was unsuccessful. Various books on planes used by the RAAF were studied, but it proved too hard to make a perfect match.
Royal Australian Airforce Vultee Vengeance dive-bomber on patrol
Royal Australian Airforce Vultee Vengeance dive-bomber on patrol. Australian War Memorial, Copyright expired - public domain.

A number of long time locals were spoken to in Williamstown, and although there were conflicting stories of a plane crashing, no one seemed to know the date, and the details were very vague. As it turned out, there were two planes that had crashed in the area. The other was an Avro Anson that crashed to the north-east of the old Gellibrand light.
While researching the wreck of the Carmen, Bob Leek, who supplied me with a number of details of the ship was questioned as to his knowledge of the plane. It just so happened that in his files he had a report of an aircraft that crashed.

The report read: "6/3/46 1050 Small plane, A27 - 505 made crash landing near shore Gellibrand Point, pilots Navy R.A.A.F. wind 12 m.p.h. Vis. 10 - 12 miles (Reported Chairman, Secretary Dredging Ann St. tide 7" on.)".

After finding this vital piece of information, the Williamstown Advertiser, Williamstown Chronicle, The Sun and Herald were read, and articles found and photocopied. The photographs in the Sun and Herald showed that the plane had landed in shallow water just off the back beach.
The plane now rests in about 10.5 metres of water off the Williamstown Football ground. Alan Moorin, a local, can remember a salvage crew trying to winch the plane ashore and only succeed in tearing the engine off.

I can only assume that the plane was somehow moved out to where it rests now, possibly by the same people who were cutting up and dumping the remains of the Kakariki at the back of the old rifle range.

Wreckage of the Vultee Vengeance off Williamstown
Photo of the wreckage of the Vultee Vengeance taken by a 17 year old Alfred Price in March 1946.
Alfred recalls that "the Vengeance was not very far out behind the Williamstown Football ground, on the rocks and well exposed at low tide with the old lighthouse in the background".

Image courtesy of Alfred Price, Copyright remains Alfred Price.
click for large image.


The Kakariki was a steamer that was sunk in a collision with the steamer Carradale in 1937. The Kakariki was later cut up and moved to a place called the Blowhole off the old Rifle range. The Carmen was a wooden lighter broken up behind the old Williamstown rifle range in 1936.

Details of the crash

     On the 6 March 1946, a Vultee Vengeance with pilot Warrant Officer F.O. Knudson from South Australia and observer, Warrant Officer L.R. Wastell of Northcote, Victoria, was towing a target for gunnery practice at the Point Cook Airbase.
While flying over St Kilda the plane got into some difficulties and it was forced to make a near perfect belly landing at Williamstown until it ran into some rocks.
Knudson was later admitted to hospital with slight head injuries.

The Vultee Vengeance was regarded by most RAAF men as unsafe. They were condemned as unsafe for dive bombing in 1944. The planes were used after this for towing targets, but most pilots thought that they were not even safe enough for that task. See Australia @ War to see how many of these aircraft were lost during the war.

Information provided by RAAF Researcher Daniel Leahy has identified that the Vengeance located off Williamstown and carrying the RAAF serial number A27-505 as a Vultee A-35B-VN Vengeance Mk. IV aircraft. It was given the USAAF serial number 41-31303 before being delivered to the RAAF on December 24, 1943. Between March and June 1944 this aircraft served with the 25 Squadron.

After delivery to the Central Flying School based at Point Cook on November 29, 1945 the aircraft was modified to a target-tug aircraft for use by the Flying School. Some 3 months later on March 6, 1946 the Vengeance crashed into the sea off Williamstown due to an engine failure probably due to a loss of oil pressure.
Smoke rising from the wreckage of another Vultee Vengeance dive-bomber which crashed
Flemington, Victoria, 1943. Smoke rising from the wreckage of another Vultee Vengeance dive-bomber which crashed during a demonstration, killing both occupants.
Australian War Memorial, Copyright expired - public domain.

Site features

     The site plan gives a good idea of what is left: there are two wings and part of the centre fuselage. The tail and engine are missing from the plane. The engine has since been found a few hundred metres away. The ends of the propeller are broken off and the engine is half buried in the mud bottom. One end of the right wing is missing and the end of the left wing is almost broken off. The plane seems to have been stripped of anything of value before being dumped as there are no instruments or seats. The visibility on the plane would rarely exceed two metres and once a few divers are down it is even less.

Identification of the site

     I didn't think at the time of finding the plane that it would prove such a difficult task to find out what it was. Who could forget a plane crashing? After not being able to identify the craft, it was decided to measure and then draw up a site plan to see if this might help in some way. At least I would have the dimensions of the aircraft.
To make the plan, a team from the MAAV went out to the site, and using tape measures and an underwater slate, we were able to obtain enough measurements for a site plan to be drawn up.
A friend photocopied the technical details of the plane and gave me a copy. Using this information I was able to identify the plane as being a Vultee Vengeance by the length and the shape of the wings.


     Phillip McCubbin located what appeared to be the missing engine in May 1994 and kindly took me out to have a look at it not long after. If the engine could be raised and placed at the front of the plane where it belongs the overall picture of the wreck would improve and most of the craft would then be in one spot. I think that the MAAV could achieve this objective. All that has to be found then is the tail which Phillip will more than likely find in the future.

Technical Details

Royal Australian Airforce Vultee Vengeance
Diagram of Royal Australian Airforce Vultee Vengeance dive bomber.
Image courtesy of Peter Dunn, Australia @ War.
     Designed under the designation V-72, the aircraft that would eventually be named Vengeance by the British was developed and manufactured as a dive bomber by the U.S. Corporation Vultee.

* Wing span 14.64 metres.
* Length of plane 12.12 metres.
* Engine One 1700-hp Wright Cyclone R-2600-A5B-5, fourteen cylinder radial air cooled.
* Maximum speed 446.4 km/h.
* Service ceiling 6797 metres.
* Armament 6 forward firing 0.5 inch machine guns in the wings, and capable of carrying a maximum bomb load of 907 kg.


     Thank you to the divers that helped out on the field trips: Eric Langenberg, Frank Derksen, Marteen Vanettie, Wayne Caldow, Cate Venturoni, Alan Blackstock, Peter Charlesworth, Gary Smith, Malcolm Venturoni, Mick Jackiew and Kieran Hosty from the Maritime Archaeology Unit.

Thanks to RAAF Researcher Daniel Leahy for historical information.

Thanks to Alfred Price for the use of image 'Vultee Vengeance wreckage at Williamstown'.                                                                                                                                            

  • Do you have any comments or questions regarding the Vultee Vengeance project report?
  • If you have dived on the Vultee Vengeance have you any comments concerning the site?
  • Do you have any information / photographs historical or otherwise which you believe may be useful to the MAAV for inclusion in the project report?
  • Full credit will be given to any material if published.

Your comments are appreciated.

This site was constructed and is maintained by Eric F. Langenberg.

The contents of this site - text, images, and data - are intended for personal information only.
   Written permission from the M.A.A.V. is required for the publication of any material.
  Any use of this material should credit the Maritime Archaeology Association Of Victoria.
Copyright (c) 1999 : Maritime Archaeology Association Of Victoria, Inc.     All rights reserved.
Last modified: March, 2011