Into The South China Sea – 1-hour film documentary

A different factual war film by Robert Cockburn.



A man’s search for his missing brother uncovers a lost history of WWII secrets from the frontline and the family home.

Into the South China Sea reveals the incredible lost history of Australia’s WWII RAAF flying boat crews and their secret missions for America. Australia’s last surviving Catalina flying boat airmen discover evidence to win recognition for their forgotten missions ordered by legendary U.S. General Douglas MacArthur.

But this very different war film also finds stories and military documents about a family's wartime contribution and suffering at home. But who recognises military families even today?

Tragic, comic, subversive, the brilliant RAAF airmen describe highly dangerous, top secret 20-hour missions to stop the Japanese Navy - in very slow, old vulnerable flying boats! And they succeeded against all odds... only to be lost and forgotten in an ocean of official Australian and U.S. paperwork. But something else is discovered in secret documents.

Flying low level at night at the speed of a family car, the crews had to get right inside Japanese-held ports across the S.W. Pacific to lay mines. They managed to stop one third of Japanese shipping, to save countless Allied lives: they paved the way for General MacArthur’s triumphant return to the Philippines. Hundreds of RAAF Catalina crewmen died and were forgotten.

The evidence is discovered in Australia’s National Archives, not by historians or officials, but by a retired Sydney barrister, Bob Cleworth, after years searching for his older brother mysteriously lost at the bottom of the South China Sea in RAAF Catalina in 1945.

His endless search is driven by a family secret and another casualty of war: Bob witnessed his mother’s breakdown and effects of brutal electric shock as she forever waited for her son to come home. Can Bob find his brother? And the missing bits of a childhood?




Into the South China Sea is a highly original mix of observational documentary and investigative journalism - told by veterans and families coming to terms with the effects of war over 70 years. Matching memories with wartime documents has startling results: General MacArthur's appeal for help from Australia's Prime Minister; a father's appeal for help for a stricken mother.

In a poignant moment filming, a document is found detailing the last fatal flight of Bob’s brother, with orders to fly at a ‘suicidal’ 10 feet above the sea to lay his mines. Britain’s WWII RAF “Dambusters" became movie stars for flying at 60feet over water. So why was no one ever told about the RAAF Catalina crews’ astonishing ultra-low level precision flying, until now?

 ‘They got more recognition from the Japanese,’ says Bob who campaigns with flying boat survivors for recognition. ‘They saved Australia,’ says WWII Australian intelligence officer Philip Dulhunty as he tries to get a Catalina to fly again from Sydney’s Bankstown Airport to publicise their wartime success. The RAAF Catalina veterans are truly Australia’s “Few”.

The film raises questions. Why did historians and officials fail to recognise the Catalina crews achievements? And when will ongoing wartime suffering at home gain recognition?
‘We’re all heroes,’ says Bernice (pictured) whose husband Cyril (pictured) flew the wartime Catalina missions.



Into the South China Sea Copyright Robert Cockburn 2017