The loss of the Seaplane Atlantis
Hans Bertram and Adolf Klausmann were flying the Junkers W33 seaplane Atlantis from Cologne, Germany on a goodwill mission to Australia for the aircraft maker, Junkers, when they ran into a severe storm between Timor and Darwin. Flying during the night of May 15, 1932, they became lost in thick cloud. Eventually at dawn, running short of fuel, they spotted the coast and landed in a sheltered bay. After a sleep and a think, they decided to use their remaining fuel to fly further down the coast, closer to where they believed the nearest town was located. In fact, they moved further away from civilisation, finally landing near Rocky Island, about 105 miles NW of Wyndham.
Thinking they were on the northern side of Melville Island, they decided to walk along the coast in a westerly direction, where they assumed they would be able to find rescuers. After a few difficult days of this, and meeting no-one on their travels, they returned to their plane and tried a new plan. Removing one of the seaplane’s floats, they converted it into a small boat and tried that. For a few more days they traversed the coastline stumbling ashore looking for food and water. Strong tides and currents carried them back and forth, and eventually, having totally run out of provisions, they decided to give up the makeshift boat and made a final landfall, seeking shelter from the heat in a rock cave. Ironically, they were only a few miles from the aircraft.
When the Junkers had failed to arrive in Darwin, a massive land sea and air search was mounted, but to no avail. Weeks passed with no sign of them, and hopes faded. The German Government requested that the search continue and offered to pay the costs. A month after the airmen had disappeared, an Aboriginal from Forrest Mission found a handkerchief and a cigarette lighter inscribed with the initials H.B. near Elsie Island, about 14 miles south of Rocky Island. The search intensified. Two days later, the abandoned Atlantis was spotted by Captain Sutcliffe, a pilot for West Australian Airways. The news flashed around the world, and a rescue party was organised out of Wyndham, led by Constable Gordon Marshall. It took the party two weeks to reach the area, but still no sign of the airmen was found. Speculation grew that the two men had been murdered by unfriendly Aborigines, and in fact a number of Aborigines confessed to murdering them (or were dobbed in by others) and were taken prisoner and kept in chains with the rescue party.
Klausmann and Bertram with rescuers
(we’re not sure which is Andumeri unfortunately).
Source: Courtesy of the WA Maritime Museum
On the 40th day of their ordeal, the aviators, too weak to stand, lay down in the shelter of some rocks to await their fate. They had spent the previous month wandering up and down the coast, looking for signs of life and grubbing for snails and shellfish, and eating gum leaves. Apart from two lizards they had caught earlier, that was the sum of their food. They were ready to die. But early next day, they were found! Two young lads from Drysdale Mission came across them. One immediately ran back to the Mission for help, and the other (Minnijinnimurrie) stayed with them feeding them with honeycomb and a fish he caught and chewed up for them so that they could eat it. Bertram later recalled that he had undoubtedly saved their lives. Other Aboriginals arrived from Drysdale and over the next five days, they caught, cooked and chewed kangaroo meat for them and helped nurse the men back to life. Finally, on June 28, Constable Marshall and the ‘official’ rescue party arrived.
Next day, Marshall sent two runners to Wyndham via Forrest River with the news that the aviators had been found, and requested that the Wyndham meatworks boat be sent up the coast to bring the men out. Owenba (or Ernest) and a companion set off with the letters. Marshall also freed the prisoners, obviously realising that the confessions of murder were spurious. That night, Klausmann’s condition worsened and he went berserk. Even in his weakened condition it took three men to hold him down. Marshall eventually chained him up.
He decided to send a second, more urgent message to the police in Wyndham, not only to hurry, but also to include a straitjacket. Emphasising the urgency of the request, he also wrote a note to the Forrest River officials, asking them to despatch the message to Wyndham via the mission launch. In Marshall’s report he wrote: “I chose the two best runners I had. They claimed they could be in Forrest River in two days, in Wyndham in four days. I promised them a new shirt and a new pair of shorts if they could do it and sent them off.” Andumeri (Ronald Morgan) and Jalnga (Hector) ran off into the Kimberley heat, following the trail of Owenba.
Two days later they arrived in Forrest River, just after Owenba and his companion who had left a day earlier. But the Mission launch, which was to relay the message to Wyndham, was not there. Ironically, it had gone to Wyndham to report that there was still no news of the missing airmen. So, not knowing when the boat would return, Andumeri decided to keep going. After a brief rest and a reviving cup of sugary tea, he headed off to Wyndham on his own. Taking the most direct route, he crossed the Forrest River and headed in a south-easterly direction between the rugged Milligan Ranges and the tidal reaches of the West Arm of the Cambridge Gulf. He headed for The Gut, the narrowest crossing point in this part of the Gulf, and notorious for the strong currents which surge through its constricted passage. Bundling up his clothes with Marshall’s letter securely tied inside, he attached them to a log which he pushed in front of him across the water. About 3am on the morning of July 4, he entered the deserted streets of Wyndham, less than four days after he’d set off. Truly a marathon run.
Again the news flashed around the world and, due to the time difference was printed in the European papers that morning. The rescue boat set off and, two days later, 53 days after their forced landing, the pilots were brought ashore at Wyndham to rousing welcome. Klausmann never recovered his sanity and was sent home to Germany. Bertram recovered, reclaimed the plane and carried out a festive tour of Australia. His main aim was to raise funds for the two Aboriginal Missions in gratitude for their help.
When he left Australia in 1933 he said “I hope after I get back to Germany, to returned here as Ambassador to Australia.” He did return to Australia, in 1941, as a prisoner of war. He’d joined the Luftwaffe and been shot down and captured in the Libyan desert. He died in Germany in 1993. Andumeri’s story was finally published in the West Australian on January 15, 1994 in an excellent article by John Burbridge.
1932 Kimberley rescue
Atlantis refueling in Kupang
On 29 February 1932 four aviators flew out of Cologne, Germany on a round-the-world flight attempt in a seaplane. The group comprised pilot Hans Bertram, co-pilot Thom, mechanic Adolph Klausmann and cameraman von Lagorio, and was intended to find potential markets for Germany’s aviation industry and to be a goodwill tour by visiting German communities along the route.
The plane was a Junkers W 33 seaplane (float configuration), registration D-2151 and named Atlantis
After enduring a storm between Timor and Australia two of the men became lost and stranded on a remote area of the north-western Australian coast. The aviators spent the next 40 days in severe deprivation and were both close to death when rescued.
Over ten weeks, they successfully flew through Italy, Greece, Turkey, Iraq, Pakistan, India, Ceylon, Burma, Thailand, Malaya, Indonesia and Timor. After arriving in Jakarta, it was agreed that Thom and von Lagorio would travel separately and the four would rendezvous in Shanghai, China. Bertram and Klausmann would continue flying down the Indonesian archipelago and onto Australia.
They had their engine overhauled in the Dutch naval aerodrome in Soerabaja (Surabaya), Indonesia and departed there on 13 May, stopping for fuel at a bay near Kupang in the western part of Dutch Timor the next day.
At midnight on 14 May Bertram and Klausmann departed Kupang for Darwin, expecting the 450 nautical miles (830 km; 520 mi) trip to take about 5 or 6 hours. Flying over the Timor Sea, they had intended to land at dawn the next day. They encountered a severe storm, and low on fuel, the aviators were forced to land their seaplane in the first sheltered bay they found which unbeknown to them, was on the Kimberley coast and hundreds of kilometres west of the intended destination.
They incorrectly guessed that the place was part of Melville Island, north of Darwin. The location was actually Cape St Lambert
14°20′1.2″S 127°46′45.4″E14.333667°S 127.779278°E), just north of the mouth of the Berkeley River on the western coastline of the Joseph Bonaparte Gulf and about 370 kilometres (230 mi) south-west of Melville Island.
The makeshift canoe
Extremely isolated and surrounded by harsh bush and desert, on the first night they were visited by an Aboriginal man. They were unable to communicate and were overwhelmed by swarms of flies. The aviators, with only 15 litres of fuel left, decided to head west towards what they thought was the direction of Darwin. They managed to take off but were forced to land again in another bay, their engine cutting out as the plane ran out of fuel and rolled up a small beach.
Being unable to find water, they could only think that the Aboriginal they saw in the other bay might be able to provide help, so they secured the plane and set out to walk back to the previous bay. They were plagued by heat, thirst and hunger and their walk was a nightmare. After attempting to swim across an inlet they were chased by a crocodile and lost their clothes. Barefoot and naked they lay beneath a burning sun. They gave up their search and returned to the plane without clothes or footwear. After seven days of walking without water, ravished by mosquitoes and completely exhausted they arrived back at the seaplane.
They decided to remove one of the seaplane’s floats to use as a makeshift kayak. Now thirteen days into their ordeal they drained the radiator of the remaining water, climbed into the float and started paddling. The ship MV Koolinda passed by only 500 metres away but didn’t see them. They paddled for four days and nights and eventually came ashore north of Cape Bernier, east of King George River.
Still thinking that they were on Melville Island they decided to walk overland to find civilisation, but found out that they weren’t on an island so they returned to the float. After arriving back, the float had been damaged so to be able to paddle it again they had to cut a section off. With the float being shorter it wasn’t as seaworthy as before so they only got a few kilometres before deciding it was too dangerous and returned to shore where they found shelter under an overhang at Cape Bernier, remaining there until they were finally rescued.
Klausmann, Bertram and rescuer Constable Gordon Marshall with the aboriginal trackers who located the two men
A Dutch gunboat Flores set out from Surabaya four days after the disappearance to search along the planned route across the Timor sea. At the request of the German Consul-General, the Western Australian government also commenced a land, sea and air search of possible landing sites. A West Australian Airways de Havilland DH.50 mail plane was chartered for the purpose. Coastal ships from the State Shipping Service were also notified to be on the lookout.
On 13 June a foot search by native trackers found a cigarette case bearing the initials “HB” and a handkerchief which were handed to a passing missionary in a boat. The details of the location were vague however and a malfunctioning telegraph delayed the information getting to the correct authorities. Eventually it did however and the land search resumed with increased vigour. 60 people were directly involved in the search which by now had received widespread publicity.
The seaplane was located by a search aircraft on 15 June and the men were found sheltering in a cave near Cape Bernier several days later. They had been lost for 40 days.
Klausmann had become demented as a result of the ordeal and needed to be restrained when they were returned to the hospital at Wyndham on 6 July by boat. The total ordeal had taken 53 days. Both men were later taken from Wyndham to Perth – Klausmann in the Koolinda as he was considered too unwell to fly.
Klausmann returned to Germany by steamer but never fully recovered. Bertram returned to the site of the abandoned plane on 18 September with Fred Sexton, a Western Australian Airways mechanic. They brought with them fuel and a replacement float from a de Havilland DH.50 and managed to fit it to the Junkers and fly the plane to Perth. They landed in Matilda Bay in the Swan River on 24 September 1932. After removing the floats Bertram flew around Australia for several months, visiting cities and towns and giving talks. He returned to Berlin on 17 April 1933 where he received a hero’s welcome.
Bertram wrote a book of the experience called Flug in die Hölle (Flight into Hell). He also had a successful career as a film director. In 1985 a four-part television miniseries named Flight Into Hell based on Hans Betram’s book was made by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Gordon Flemyng was the director.
The makeshift canoe was recovered by staff from the Western Australian Museum in 1975 and is held by the Western Australian Maritime Museum in Fremantle where it is occasionally displayed.
Atlantis Seaplane Float
It was 15 May 1932. The seaplane Atlantis was on its way to Darwin from Kupang in Timor, when bad weather caused it to become well off course. Running out of fuel, the pilot, Captain Hans Bertram, had to land in a remote part of the northwest coast. He and his mechanic, Adolf Klausmann were then to spend 40 days of privation until they were found by Aborigines in a cave where they had all but given up and prepared to die. When the two airmen first landed, they began to convert one of the seaplane floats into a type of canoe. Although ingenious and practical the makeshift craft was not very useful on the open sea. They ended up washed ashore, still with no real idea of where they were and with no food and water. Search parties were looking for the men to no avail, but a cigarette case with Hans Bertram’s initials on it was found by an Aboriginal. A search spreading out from this area found the missing plane, but it was of course empty. Now an even bigger search was put in progress using Aboriginal trackers from missions in the area, and one of these trackers found the men holed up in their cave waiting to die. This Aboriginal is thought to have been Minnijinnimurrie from the Drysdale Mission. He and other Aboriginals with him from the mission looked after the two aviators for a week before the first group of police rescuers arrived. The condition of the two men was very poor and two runners were sent to Forrest Mission with messages to arrange a boat to be sent to pick them up. Overnight Klausmann’s condition had deteriorated and it was decided to send more runners to the police in Wyndham via Forrest Mission requesting a strait jacket also be sent. The second pair of Aboriginal runners then performed what was to become a marathon feat. They were told that if they managed to overtake the first runners they would get a new pair of shorts and a shirt. The pair made it to Forrest Mission in two days. It had taken six days for the rescue party to travel that distance. Although the role that Aboriginals played in finding the aviators and keeping them alive until the rescue party reached the cave is well known, the story of Andumeri and Jalnga’s marathon run is not often mentioned.
Another aspect of this story is also not often told. While the search parties were under way, there were reports that Aboriginals had killed the two aviators. A number of Aboriginals were taken prisoner by Superintendent Johnson, including Wajana and Yorgin, the suspected murderers. Three different stories arose. An Aboriginal woman, Mooger, said that Wajana and Yorgin saw the plane land, asked the aviators for tobacco and when they were not given any, speared the men. Then some of the prisoners told Johnson that they had found one man dead in the plane, and tracks of the other man. Finally a third story from other Aboriginals of the Brinjin tribe said that three other Aboriginals had killed the aviators. Regardless of the fact that these stories conflicted, and that no evidence of a dead person had been found in the seaplane, the Aboriginals were kept chained with the search party until they found the men. They were released after finding Bertram and Klausmann and given some food and tobacco as recompense. The Aboriginal group associated with the Drysdale Mission was possibly the Miwa and the runners were from the Forrest Mission and possibly associated with the Aboriginal Yiiji group.
Associated Tribe Miwa, Yiiji
Contact Evidence Verified
Type of contact Helpful
CAPTAIN BERTRAM WILL
Klausmann Still In Hospital
Temporarily Deranged ^45 DAYS LIVING IN HELL”
.»’ WYNDHAM, TaurwUjr.
Flight-Captain Bertram ia well I aad dMerhl» and announces that h« will- repair the ‘plane and con-1
HUM* til« fligkt to Sydney and Mci- j bonnie., Klausmann, tke mechanic, it in aàddar caáe. He ia temporarily deranged and in hospital, bat there an atrong kopea that when his bodily wanta are thoroughly cared 1er he will make . complete mental reeoTery.
Bertram stands revealed as a de- bonair young airman possessed of ¡superlative courage and apparently ste.el nerves. He indicates that he will never tell the full details of the weeks of horror in the wilderness, but it ia known now that Klausmann be- came mentally affected comparatively early in their wanderings, and that in addition to the worry and suspense of looking after him Bertram had to con- duct the search singlehanded and fend for tha pair of them. Singlehanded ha turned ona of the ‘plane’s floats into . boat and paddled for days miles out to aea. He managed to do all this, to davis« lighting apparatus from the ‘plane’s magneto, to make fires, to keep a daily diary, and to endure the mental anguish of seeing help pass him and his comrade by on three oc- casions, and still retain courage and will power.
Constable Marshall, who brought the fliers back to Wyndham, says that if the Drysdale natives, who suc-coured the fliers had not found them.
CAPTAIN BERTRAM (left) and HERR KLAUSMANN. A photograph taken just before they left Batavia. they would have been dead when 1 earrived on the scene.
“AWFUL AND TERRIBLE”
“We seem to have caused bother,” Bertram said. “We saw ‘planes and ships, but we could not make them see us. It would seem impossible that within a few days of reaching land two men could give up, but wo did. It all seemed so awful nnd ter- rible.”
Bertram could not be persuaded to
speak of his experiences. “Imagine for yourself,” he said. “Here I am just back from 45 days living in hell, and you ask me what hell is like. I cannot do ii. I will say that not for one minute or one .second has it been easy. It was a light all the time, and we were finished when we saw the natives from the mission.”