Following the Japanese air raid of 7th December 1941 on Pearl Harbor, World War Two also spread out into the Far East. During the first few months of 1942 the Japanese made swift advances throughout the southeastern part of Asia. The allies were unable to prevent the Imperial Japanese Army, capably supported by its air and naval forces, from occupying parts of China and the colonies of Europe and the United States. By the end of February 1942 it was anticipated that Japanese troops would overrun Java within a week. Japan wanted control of Java as well as the rest of the Dutch East-Indies to sustain its war effort, badly needing the oil that was being produced in the Dutch colony. Expectation turned to grim reality when, on the night of 28th February, during the Battle of the Java Sea the Royal Dutch Navy suffered its most grievous setback with the loss of Rear Admiral Karel Doorman and the sinking of his allied fleet. The destruction of the Netherland`s major warships included Doorman`s flagship, the light cruiser Hr. Ms. De Ruyter.
The navy commander in the Dutch Indies, Admiral Conrad Helfrich, gave orders to all available planes and ships, including those of American and British origin, to evacuate to Australia taking as much military personnel as possible with them. In a fourteen day period from the end of February until March 3rd, 8.000 mostly Dutch refugees, including women and children, were airlifted by a variety of aircraft from Java to Perth and Sydney via Broome in Western Australia. Thus a shuttle service was started between Java and Broome. On the busiest day fifty-seven planes landed on the small airstrip at Broome to refuel in the vast emptiness of the deserted northern part of Western Australia. American Lieutenant John Rouse said: ďBroome looks like La Guardia Field at its busiest, the aerodrome is packed with aircraftĒ.
Broome was founded in 1883 as a pearling port on the north-western coast of Western Australia following to the presence of three excellent natural pearl beds. The pioneer John Forrest selected the place on Roebuck Bay just east of Dampier Creek and predicted this site would become the Capital of The Kimberley. Later that year, the town of Broome was declared and named after the colony`s Governor, Frederick N. Broome. The pearl fishing had its peaks in the eighties and nineties of the nineteenth century and the first two decades of the last century. On 8th December 1941 Australia declared war on Japan and almost immediately all pearling activity ceased in Broome. Most male residents joined the Australian military or became members of the local Volunteer Defence Corps. The Japanese residents were interred in camps and their pearling boats subject to confiscation as a precautary measure in the event of a possible Japanese invasion.
Broome`s aerodrome was nothing more than an unpaved landing strip and a suitable harbor for flying boats. But precisely because Broome had become a very important re-fuelling station on the route from East Asia to Perth, Melbourne and Sydney the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) upgraded the town`s aerodrome to accommodate the largest planes. They were assisted by American military personnel and employees of the Australian airline QANTAS. The landing strip was widened and a large petrol depot was established. All the necessary personnel, materials and fuel were flown in or brought in by ship.