Ray survived eight days on the run from the Japanese

Name: Ray Graetz
Date: 1944
Unit: 100 Squadron RAAF
Location: New Guinea

Flying Officer Ray Graetz was a wireless operator/air gunner on a bombing and strafing mission with eight other Beauforts over Wewak in May 1944 when his plane was shot down by enemy gunfire.

The pilot, F/O McLaren, turned the plane towards the sea hoping to ditch it well away from land but the cockpit rapidly filled with smoke and he was forced to ditch close to the shore, just 20 metres from the But Plantation and a strong force of Japanese troops.

"The dingy was released and we all climbed aboard it on the seaward side of the aeroplane," Ray Graetz said later. "I re-entered the wireless compartment of the Beaufort to take care of the destruction of the classified equipment.

"Then we commenced to paddle the dinghy seaward but as we drew away from the shelter of the Beaufort lying in the surf, the Japanese opened up with several machine guns from the rising ground beyond But Mission."

The first burst killed the navigator, F/O Anderson, the second holed the dingy which immediately filled with water and the third burst killed F/O McLaren, completely collapsed the dingy and shot off the lobe of F/O Graetz's right ear.

Catalina Sea Rescue had been contacted by accompanying aircraft. A Catalina had arrived and circled above us for quite a considerable time, but was unable to effect a rescue because of intense enemy fire from the shore.

Although not a strong swimmer, Ray Graetz headed westward while the only other survivor, F/Sgt Maloney, swam seaward to escape the machine gun fire.

"My flying boots soon came off and were lost, as was the jungle kit that had gone down with the plane," Ray Graetz recalled. "I started swimming and drifting westward with the current about 200 yards [183m] off shore.

"The Japanese were still firing spasmodically and sent patrols along the beach but some distance back from the water's edge. Because of this they probably could not see me behind the waves."

Ray Graetz finally scrambled ashore where a solitary Japanese soldier apparently didn't see him as he crawled into the scrub. Feeling weak from the loss of blood caused by the wound to his ear, he crawled under a bush and just lay there, eventually falling asleep.

All Allied airmen had been warned about the dangers they faced if shot down and captured by the Japanese. Tokyo Rose [the Japanese propaganda broadcaster] had on numerous occasions warned that any airmen captured would have the muscles in their legs cut so they could not walk and would be left to die a slow and horrible death in the jungle.

It was with this thought in mind that Ray Graetz began an extraordinary eight-day episode during which he survived numerous encounters with Japanese troops, went without food for over a week, but still managed to sabotage various Japanese weapons and trucks.

He awoke about 10pm the same evening and heard considerable motor truck activity going both ways along the coastal road. He tried to get a look at it but was so weak from loss of blood that he collapsed and just lay there till dawn.

"I spent a wretched night being quite naked having lost my shirt and trousers crawling through the scrub," Ray Graetz said. "Awakening at dawn, I had enough strength to crawl back and locate my clothing, which was close by.

"I felt very weak as my wound had bled through the night. Later, I became semi-delirious and so lay under a nearby bush for the rest of the day. I also slept there at night."

The next morning Ray Graetz decided to try and make his way to Tadji. At Au Creek, he found two bomb craters partially filled with clear water.

"Having had nothing to drink yet, except dew from the leaves of bushes, I lay in a crater in the water for several hours drinking constantly."

My total immersion in this crater probably saved my life. The absorbtion of fluid apparently counteracted the shock and loss of blood. When I eventually scrambled out of the crater, I was feeling totally fit again.

In the afternoon he made his way to But Drome where the runway was full of bomb craters and damaged Japanese aircraft.

He decided to travel at night and set off westward but at the mouth of Manil Creek almost walked into a sentry who was sitting down looking out to sea. Soon afterwards a party of 40 or so Japanese carrying lanterns arrived and started unloading trucks.

He lay watching the activity for 45 minutes or so and then crawled back to the beach and slept under another bush. He had had no food all day and felt very hungry.

Next morning he tried to build a raft from empty drums and coconut logs but it collapsed on launching. He found some yellow phone lines which had been laid by the Japanese and cut 200 metres off them to tie the drums together but this proved to be unsuccessful too.

Soon afterwards, several truckloads of troops arrived to investigate the interruption to their phone line.

"I lay under a bush and covered myself with kunai grass while they searched the area. One soldier actually stepped over my legs without seeing me, his sword was dangling by his side.

"Later, while walking along the beach, I located a camouflaged 3-inch gun on wheels pointing seaward in an open-back emplacement," Ray Graetz recalled. "I put several handfulls of sand down the muzzle and in the breech mechanism. Nearby were several weapon pits designed for machine guns.

"Spent the afternoon wandering around the But strip inspecting enemy planes. Found a waterproof sheet and the silk from a parafrag bomb there. Henceforth used the silk at night to wrap myself in so that my wet clothes would dry."

That evening, after spreading grass on the leading edge of the mainplane of a Japanese plane, he slept under it.

"At 6am two Japanese came walking past the plane but did not see me as the grass provided shelter. They were each carrying a machine gun and had probably come from the weapons pits seen the previous afternoon.

Ray Graetz continued his journey and came across some native huts where Japanese troops had been living. A strafing attack had recently been carried out so the dwellings had been abandoned.

"Entering the huts I took a water bottle and towels as well as some shirts. I went through the personal kit of someone but found nothing of interest.

"Just opposite the hut, a three-ton truck was pulled under the trees. It seemed serviceable so I pulled out the distributor wires."

Ray Graetz came across another group of huts which had been used as a dump for medical supplies which were scattered about everywhere, apparently by a bomb blast.

Continuing along, he saw six fuel tankers and an equal number of three-ton trucks.

"Just as I pulled out the wiring from the distributors of two of the trucks, I saw two Japanese cross the track. They didn't see me."

Shortly afterwards he was caught in strafing by numerous A-20s (American Boston aircraft).

"Taking shelter under a wide spreading tree just off the road, I found the experience terrifying as bombs exploded nearby and later a belly tank was dropped on the tree and hit by tracers," Ray Graetz said.

"The resultant fire burned part of the tree and half an acre of grass. Unfortunately, there were no enemy stores in that area."

Having lain under a tree for the rest of the day, he watched as 50 or so fully equipped troops began to assemble nearby.

"Seven trucks came along and picked them up then headed in different directions. In view of the activity I slept under a large tree, sharing it with two Japanese who retired for the night on the opposite side. Waking the next morning, I found my companions had already gone."

During the morning he ran into at least six Japanese soldiers walking individually along the track.

"They seemed to be very weary and I avoided them by stepping into the undergrowth."

He was starting to cross a creek when he spotted an elderly Japanese crossing towards him.

"I walked straight past and he took no notice," Ray Graetz said. "Just across the creek, in a clearing, I saw six armed soldiers. I walked right on past them. They merely looked and said nothing.

"Several more were met, all walking eastward along the track. Some grunted as we passed so I grunted back a reply."

Still not having had any food, Ray Graetz found he was losing the desire to eat but he kept drinking from his water bottle.

Further on in a clearing he came across 20 soldiers resting with arms stacked.

"All appeared to be smarter than others I had seen but they did nothing but sit up as I walked past. That night I slept well on the beach at Bai as I was now feeling stronger."

Next day he ignored the shouts of Japanese soldiers working on a bridge but they resumed their work when he made no reply.

"Taking a course parallel to the coast through the thick scrub in the foothills, I came across a soldier boiling six billies of tea. He came towards me calling out but I waved my hand across my face as if in pain and walked on. I reached the Anumb River and found 100 troops bathing, whilst further downstream more were swimming and washing clothes.

"Towards dusk, at the top of a high feature, I found a large log. As heavy rain had started I slept under it with leaves laid on each side to keep the rain out. I had lost the desire for food but consumed considerable water during the day."

The following day was spent battling through the thick bush in an effort to reach the coast again and he spent the night under yet another bush.

Next morning he continued along a narrow track which he thought was probably invisible from the air as the undergrowth was both heavy and tall. He met several individual Japanese soldiers who were all too tired to take any notice of him.

"Pushed on and finally reached the Danmap River. Whilst trying to cross, P-39s (US Airacobra fighters) flew over me from the west. Later, two came back and circled low down and waggled their wings. Still having the same small parachute, I waved in reply.

"I waited until late afternoon thinking that perhaps a Catalina would arrive. I was surprised when two PT boats turned up and came towards me."

Just then, Japanese soldiers opened fire on the boats after a raft had been lowered overboard to float ashore.

"The boats silenced the fire after a heavy strafing of the beach and village areas," Ray Graetz said. "They then returned and shot two lines to me but I was too weak to risk being carried away by a strong cross current so I did not retrieve the lines. Eventually two of the crewmen swam ashore with the raft and brought me to their vessel."

Ray Graetz had in fact been rescued by US patrol boats 128 and 131, while Lt William Stewart and Ensign Gregory Azarigian had risked their lives, disregarding sniper fire to swim in and snatch him to safety.

The day after he was attended to by the medico on the mother boat, F/O Graetz was returned to his RAAF base where he was interviewed. "I was able to pinpoint where I had seen supplies being unloaded from a Japanese submarine and was able to identify the location of groups of Japanese on river tributaries, where they sheltered under the overhanging jungle from Allied aircraft.

"This detailed information of every moment of my time in the area was invaluable to the Army for the tactical planning of their assault on the Japanese-held area."

F/O Graetz was later awarded the Military Cross for his 'outstanding courage, initiative and complete disregard for his own safety. His devotion to duty is worthy of the highest praise.'

The material for this article was supplied by Ray Graetz of New South Wale


Last updated: 3 June 2019

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DVA (Department of Veterans' Affairs) (2019), Ray survived eight days on the run from the Japanese, DVA Anzac Portal, accessed 21 January 2021, http://anzacportal.dva.gov.au/stories-service/australians-war-stories/ray-survived-eight-days-run-japanese
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